Glimpses of an Unfamiliar Japan
Part 1 out of 5
Produced by John Orford
GLIMPSES OF UNFAMILIAR JAPAN
by LAFCADIO HEARN
TO THE FRIENDS
WHOSE KINDNESS ALONE RENDERED POSSIBLE
MY SOJOURN IN THE ORIENT,
PAYMASTER MITCHELL McDONALD, U.S.N.
BASIL HALL CHAMBERLAIN, ESQ.
Emeritus Professor of Philology and Japanese in the
Imperial University of Tokyo
I DEDICATE THESE VOLUMES
IN TOKEN OF
AFFECTION AND GRATITUDE
1 MY FIRST DAY IN THE ORIENT
2 THE WRITING OF KOBODAISHI
4 A PILGRIMAGE TO ENOSHIMA
5 AT THE MARKET OF THE DEAD
7 THE CHIEF CITY OF THE PROVINCE OF THE GODS
8 KITZUKI: THE MOST ANCIENT SHRINE IN JAPAN
9 IN THE CAVE OF THE CHILDREN'S GHOSTS
10 AT MIONOSEKI
11 NOTES ON KITZUKI
12 AT HINOMISAKI
In the Introduction to his charming Tales of Old Japan, Mr. Mitford
wrote in 1871:
'The books which have been written of late years about Japan have either
been compiled from official records, or have contained the sketchy
impressions of passing travellers. Of the inner life of the Japanese the
world at large knows but little: their religion, their superstitions,
their ways of thought, the hidden springs by which they move--all these
are as yet mysteries.'
This invisible life referred to by Mr. Mitford is the Unfamiliar Japan
of which I have been able to obtain a few glimpses. The reader may,
perhaps, be disappointed by their rarity; for a residence of little more
than four years among the people--even by one who tries to adopt their
habits and customs--scarcely suffices to enable the foreigner to begin
to feel at home in this world of strangeness. None can feel more than
the author himself how little has been accomplished in these volumes,
and how much remains to do.
The popular religious ideas--especially the ideas derived from Buddhism
-and the curious superstitions touched upon in these sketches are
little shared by the educated classes of New Japan. Except as regards
his characteristic indifference toward abstract ideas in general and
metaphysical speculation in particular, the Occidentalised Japanese of
to-day stands almost on the intellectual plane of the cultivated
Parisian or Bostonian. But he is inclined to treat with undue contempt
all conceptions of the supernatural; and toward the great religious
questions of the hour his attitude is one of perfect apathy. Rarely does
his university training in modern philosophy impel him to attempt any
independent study of relations, either sociological or psychological.
For him, superstitions are simply superstitions; their relation to the
emotional nature of the people interests him not at all.  And this
not only because he thoroughly understands that people, but because the
class to which he belongs is still unreasoningly, though quite
naturally, ashamed of its older beliefs. Most of us who now call
ourselves agnostics can recollect the feelings with which, in the period
of our fresh emancipation from a faith far more irrational than
Buddhism, we looked back upon the gloomy theology of our fathers.
Intellectual Japan has become agnostic within only a few decades; and
the suddenness of this mental revolution sufficiently explains the
principal, though not perhaps all the causes of the present attitude of
the superior class toward Buddhism. For the time being it certainly
borders upon intolerance; and while such is the feeling even to religion
as distinguished from superstition, the feeling toward superstition as
distinguished from religion must be something stronger still.
But the rare charm of Japanese life, so different from that of all other
lands, is not to be found in its Europeanised circles. It is to be found
among the great common people, who represent in Japan, as in all
countries, the national virtues, and who still cling to their delightful
old customs, their picturesque dresses, their Buddhist images, their
household shrines, their beautiful and touching worship of ancestors.
This is the life of which a foreign observer can never weary, if
fortunate and sympathetic enough to enter into it--the life that forces
him sometimes to doubt whether the course of our boasted Western
progress is really in the direction of moral development. Each day,
while the years pass, there will be revealed to him some strange and
unsuspected beauty in it. Like other life, it has its darker side; yet
even this is brightness compared with the darker side of Western
existence. It has its foibles, its follies, its vices, its cruelties;
yet the more one sees of it, the more one marvels at its extraordinary
goodness, its miraculous patience, its never-failing courtesy, its
simplicity of heart, its intuitive charity. And to our own larger
Occidental comprehension, its commonest superstitions, however condemned
at Tokyo have rarest value as fragments of the unwritten literature of
its hopes, its fears, its experience with right and wrong--its
primitive efforts to find solutions for the riddle of the Unseen flow
much the lighter and kindlier superstitions of the people add to the
charm of Japanese life can, indeed, be understood only by one who has
long resided in the interior. A few of their beliefs are sinister--such
as that in demon-foxes, which public education is rapidly dissipating;
but a large number are comparable for beauty of fancy even to those
Greek myths in which our noblest poets of today still find inspiration;
while many others, which encourage kindness to the unfortunate and
kindness to animals, can never have produced any but the happiest moral
results. The amusing presumption of domestic animals, and the
comparative fearlessness of many wild creatures in the presence of man;
the white clouds of gulls that hover about each incoming steamer in
expectation of an alms of crumbs; the whirring of doves from temple-
eaves to pick up the rice scattered for them by pilgrims; the familiar
storks of ancient public gardens; the deer of holy shrines, awaiting
cakes and caresses; the fish which raise their heads from sacred lotus-
ponds when the stranger's shadow falls upon the water--these and a
hundred other pretty sights are due to fancies which, though called
superstitious, inculcate in simplest form the sublime truth of the Unity
of Life. And even when considering beliefs less attractive than these,-
superstitions of which the grotesqueness may provoke a smile--the
impartial observer would do well to bear in mind the words of Lecky:
Many superstitions do undoubtedly answer to the Greek conception of
slavish "fear of the Gods," and have been productive of unspeakable
misery to mankind; but there are very many others of a different
tendency. Superstitions appeal to our hopes as well as our fears. They
often meet and gratify the inmost longings of the heart. They offer
certainties where reason can only afford possibilities or probabilities.
They supply conceptions on which the imagination loves to dwell. They
sometimes impart even a new sanction to moral truths. Creating wants
which they alone can satisfy, and fears which they alone can quell, they
often become essential elements of happiness; and their consoling
efficacy is most felt in the languid or troubled hours when it is most
needed. We owe more to our illusions than to our knowledge. The
imagination, which is altogether constructive, probably contributes more
to our happiness than the reason, which in the sphere of speculation is
mainly critical and destructive. The rude charm which, in the hour of
danger or distress, the savage clasps so confidently to his breast, the
sacred picture which is believed to shed a hallowing and protecting
influence over the poor man's cottage, can bestow a more real
consolation n the darkest hour of human suffering than can be afforded
by the grandest theories of philosophy. . . . No error can be more grave
than to imagine that when a critical spirit is abroad the pleasant
beliefs will all remain, and the painful ones alone will perish.'
That the critical spirit of modernised Japan is now indirectly aiding
rather than opposing the efforts of foreign bigotry to destroy the
simple, happy beliefs of the people, and substitute those cruel
superstitions which the West has long intellectually outgrown--the
fancies of an unforgiving God and an everlasting hell--is surely to be
regretted. More than hundred and sixty years ago Kaempfer wrote of the
Japanese 'In the practice of virtue, in purity of life and outward
devotion they far outdo the Christians.' And except where native morals
have suffered by foreign contamination, as in the open ports, these
words are true of the Japanese to-day. My own conviction, and that of
many impartial and more experienced observers of Japanese life, is that
Japan has nothing whatever to gain by conversion to Christianity, either
morally or otherwise, but very much to lose.
Of the twenty-seven sketches composing these volumes, four were
originally purchased by various newspaper syndicates and reappear in a
considerably altered form, and six were published in the Atlantic
Monthly (1891-3). The remainder forming the bulk of the work, are new.
KUMAMOTO, KYUSHU, JAPAN. May, 1894.
GLIMPSES OF UNFAMILIAR JAPAN by LAFCADIO HEARN
Chapter One My First Day in the Orient
'Do not fail to write down your first impressions as soon as possible,'
said a kind English professor [Basil Hall Chamberlain: PREPARATOR'S
NOTE] whom I had the pleasure of meeting soon after my arrival in Japan:
'they are evanescent, you know; they will never come to you again, once
they have faded out; and yet of all the strange sensations you may
receive in this country you will feel none so charming as these.' I am
trying now to reproduce them from the hasty notes of the time, and find
that they were even more fugitive than charming; something has
evaporated from all my recollections of them--something impossible to
recall. I neglected the friendly advice, in spite of all resolves to
obey it: I could not, in those first weeks, resign myself to remain
indoors and write, while there was yet so much to see and hear and feel
in the sun-steeped ways of the wonderful Japanese city. Still, even
could I revive all the lost sensations of those first experiences, I
doubt if I could express and fix them in words. The first charm of Japan
is intangible and volatile as a perfume.
It began for me with my first kuruma-ride out of the European quarter of
Yokohama into the Japanese town; and so much as I can recall of it is
hereafter set down.
It is with the delicious surprise of the first journey through Japanese
streets--unable to make one's kuruma-runner understand anything but
gestures, frantic gestures to roll on anywhere, everywhere, since all is
unspeakably pleasurable and new--that one first receives the real
sensation of being in the Orient, in this Far East so much read of, so
long dreamed of, yet, as the eyes bear witness, heretofore all unknown.
There is a romance even in the first full consciousness of this rather
commonplace fact; but for me this consciousness is transfigured
inexpressibly by the divine beauty of the day. There is some charm
unutterable in the morning air, cool with the coolness of Japanese
spring and wind-waves from the snowy cone of Fuji; a charm perhaps due
rather to softest lucidity than to any positive tone--an atmospheric
limpidity extraordinary, with only a suggestion of blue in it, through
which the most distant objects appear focused with amazing sharpness.
The sun is only pleasantly warm; the jinricksha, or kuruma, is the most
cosy little vehicle imaginable; and the street-vistas, as seen above the
dancing white mushroom-shaped hat of my sandalled runner, have an
allurement of which I fancy that I could never weary.
Elfish everything seems; for everything as well as everybody is small,
and queer, and mysterious: the little houses under their blue roofs, the
little shop-fronts hung with blue, and the smiling little people in
their blue costumes. The illusion is only broken by the occasional
passing of a tall foreigner, and by divers shop-signs bearing
announcements in absurd attempts at English. Nevertheless such discords
only serve to emphasise reality; they never materially lessen the
fascination of the funny little streets.
'Tis at first a delightfully odd confusion only, as you look down one of
them, through an interminable flutter of flags and swaying of dark blue
drapery, all made beautiful and mysterious with Japanese or Chinese
lettering. For there are no immediately discernible laws of
construction or decoration: each building seems to have a fantastic
prettiness of its own; nothing is exactly like anything else, and all is
bewilderingly novel. But gradually, after an hour passed in the quarter,
the eye begins to recognise in a vague way some general plan in the
construction of these low, light, queerly-gabled wooden houses, mostly
unpainted, with their first stories all open to the street, and thin
strips of roofing sloping above each shop-front, like awnings, back to
the miniature balconies of paper-screened second stories. You begin to
understand the common plan of the tiny shops, with their matted floors
well raised above the street level, and the general perpendicular
arrangement of sign-lettering, whether undulating on drapery or
glimmering on gilded and lacquered signboards. You observe that the same
rich dark blue which dominates in popular costume rules also in shop
draperies, though there is a sprinkling of other tints--bright blue and
white and red (no greens or yellows). And then you note also that the
dresses of the labourers are lettered with the same wonderful lettering
as the shop draperies. No arabesques could produce such an effect. As
modified for decorative purposes these ideographs have a speaking
symmetry which no design without a meaning could possess. As they appear
on the back of a workman's frock--pure white on dark blue--and large
enough to be easily read at a great distance (indicating some guild or
company of which the wearer is a member or employee), they give to the
poor cheap garment a fictitious appearance of splendour.
And finally, while you are still puzzling over the mystery of things,
there will come to you like a revelation the knowledge that most of the
amazing picturesqueness of these streets is simply due to the profusion
of Chinese and Japanese characters in white, black, blue, or gold,
decorating everything--even surfaces of doorposts and paper screens.
Perhaps, then, for one moment, you will imagine the effect of English
lettering substituted for those magical characters; and the mere idea
will give to whatever aesthetic sentiment you may possess a brutal
shock, and you will become, as I have become, an enemy of the Romaji-
Kwai--that society founded for the ugly utilitarian purpose of
introducing the use of English letters in writing Japanese.
An ideograph does not make upon the Japanese brain any impression
similar to that created in the Occidental brain by a letter or
combination of letters--dull, inanimate symbols of vocal sounds. To the
Japanese brain an ideograph is a vivid picture: it lives; it speaks; it
gesticulates. And the whole space of a Japanese street is full of such
living characters--figures that cry out to the eyes, words that smile
or grimace like faces.
What such lettering is, compared with our own lifeless types, can be
understood only by those who have lived in the farther East. For even
the printed characters of Japanese or Chinese imported texts give no
suggestion of the possible beauty of the same characters as modified for
decorative inscriptions, for sculptural use, or for the commonest
advertising purposes. No rigid convention fetters the fancy of the
calligrapher or designer: each strives to make his characters more
beautiful than any others; and generations upon generations of artists
have been toiling from time immemorial with like emulation, so that
through centuries and centuries of tire-less effort and study, the
primitive hieroglyph or ideograph has been evolved into a thing of
beauty indescribable. It consists only of a certain number of brush-
strokes; but in each stroke there is an undiscoverable secret art of
grace, proportion, imperceptible curve, which actually makes it seem
alive, and bears witness that even during the lightning-moment of its
creation the artist felt with his brush for the ideal shape of the
stroke equally along its entire length, from head to tail. But the art
of the strokes is not all; the art of their combination is that which
produces the enchantment, often so as to astonish the Japanese
themselves. It is not surprising, indeed, considering the strangely
personal, animate, esoteric aspect of Japanese lettering, that there
should be wonderful legends of calligraphy relating how words written by
holy experts became incarnate, and descended from their tablets to hold.
converse with mankind.
My kurumaya calls himself 'Cha.' He has a white hat which looks like the
top of an enormous mushroom; a short blue wide-sleeved jacket; blue
drawers, close-fitting as 'tights,' and reaching to his ankles; and
light straw sandals bound upon his bare feet with cords of palmetto-
fibre. Doubtless he typifies all the patience, endurance, and insidious
coaxing powers of his class. He has already manifested his power to make
me give him more than the law allows; and I have been warned against him
in vain. For the first sensation of having a human being for a horse,
trotting between shafts, unwearyingly bobbing up and down before you for
hours, is alone enough to evoke a feeling of compassion. And when this
human being, thus trotting between shafts, with all his hopes, memories,
sentiments, and comprehensions, happens to have the gentlest smile, and
the power to return the least favour by an apparent display of infinite
gratitude, this compassion becomes sympathy, and provokes unreasoning
impulses to self-sacrifice. I think the sight of the profuse
perspiration has also something to do with the feeling, for it makes one
think of the cost of heart-beats and muscle-contractions, likewise of
chills, congestions, and pleurisy. Cha's clothing is drenched; and he
mops his face with a small sky-blue towel, with figures of bamboo-sprays
and sparrows in white upon it, which towel he carries wrapped about his
wrist as he runs.
That, however, which attracts me in Cha--Cha considered not as a motive
power at all, but as a personality--I am rapidly learning to discern in
the multitudes of faces turned toward us as we roll through these
miniature streets. And perhaps the supremely pleasurable impression of
this morning is that produced by the singular gentleness of popular
scrutiny. Everybody looks at you curiously; but there is never anything
disagreeable, much less hostile in the gaze: most commonly it is
accompanied by a smile or half smile. And the ultimate consequence of
all these kindly curious looks and smiles is that the stranger finds
himself thinking of fairy-land. Hackneyed to the degree of provocation
this statement no doubt is: everybody describing the sensations of his
first Japanese day talks of the land as fairyland, and of its people as
fairy-folk. Yet there is a natural reason for this unanimity in choice
of terms to describe what is almost impossible to describe more
accurately at the first essay. To find one's self suddenly in a world
where everything is upon a smaller and daintier scale than with us--a
world of lesser and seemingly kindlier beings, all smiling at you as if
to wish you well--a world where all movement is slow and soft, and
voices are hushed--a world where land, life, and sky are unlike all
that one has known elsewhere--this is surely the realisation, for
imaginations nourished with English folklore, of the old dream of a
World of Elves.
The traveller who enters suddenly into a period of social change--
especially change from a feudal past to a democratic present--is likely
to regret the decay of things beautiful and the ugliness of things new.
What of both I may yet discover in Japan I know not; but to-day, in
these exotic streets, the old and the new mingle so well that one seems
to set off the other. The line of tiny white telegraph poles carrying
the world's news to papers printed in a mixture of Chinese and Japanese
characters; an electric bell in some tea-house with an Oriental riddle
of text pasted beside the ivory button, a shop of American sewing-
machines next to the shop of a maker of Buddhist images; the
establishment of a photographer beside the establishment of a
manufacturer of straw sandals: all these present no striking
incongruities, for each sample of Occidental innovation is set into an
Oriental frame that seems adaptable to any picture. But on the first
day, at least, the Old alone is new for the stranger, and suffices to
absorb his attention. It then appears to him that everything Japanese is
delicate, exquisite, admirable--even a pair of common wooden chopsticks
in a paper bag with a little drawing upon it; even a package of
toothpicks of cherry-wood, bound with a paper wrapper wonderfully
lettered in three different colours; even the little sky-blue towel,
with designs of flying sparrows upon it, which the jinricksha man uses
to wipe his face. The bank bills, the commonest copper coins, are things
of beauty. Even the piece of plaited coloured string used by the
shopkeeper in tying up your last purchase is a pretty curiosity.
Curiosities and dainty objects bewilder you by their very multitude: on
either side of you, wherever you turn your eyes, are countless wonderful
things as yet incomprehensible.
But it is perilous to look at them. Every time you dare to look,
something obliges you to buy it--unless, as may often happen, the
smiling vendor invites your inspection of so many varieties of one
article, each specially and all unspeakably desirable, that you flee
away out of mere terror at your own impulses. The shopkeeper never asks
you to buy; but his wares are enchanted, and if you once begin buying
you are lost. Cheapness means only a temptation to commit bankruptcy;
for the resources of irresistible artistic cheapness are inexhaustible.
The largest steamer that crosses the Pacific could not contain what you
wish to purchase. For, although you may not, perhaps, confess the fact
to yourself, what you really want to buy is not the contents of a shop;
you want the shop and the shopkeeper, and streets of shops with their
draperies and their inhabitants, the whole city and the bay and the
mountains begirdling it, and Fujiyama's white witchery overhanging it in
the speckless sky, all Japan, in very truth, with its magical trees and
luminous atmosphere, with all its cities and towns and temples, and
forty millions of the most lovable people in the universe.
Now there comes to my mind something I once heard said by a practical
American on hearing of a great fire in Japan: 'Oh! those people can
afford fires; their houses are so cheaply built.' It is true that the
frail wooden houses of the common people can be cheaply and quickly
replaced; but that which was within them to make them beautiful cannot--
and every fire is an art tragedy. For this is the land of infinite hand-
made variety; machinery has not yet been able to introduce sameness and
utilitarian ugliness in cheap production (except in response to foreign
demand for bad taste to suit vulgar markets), and each object made by
the artist or artisan differs still from all others, even of his own
making. And each time something beautiful perishes by fire, it is a
something representing an individual idea.
Happily the art impulse itself, in this country of conflagrations, has a
vitality which survives each generation of artists, and defies the flame
that changes their labour to ashes or melts it to shapelessness. The
idea whose symbol has perished will reappear again in other creations--
perhaps after the passing of a century--modified, indeed, yet
recognisably of kin to the thought of the past. And every artist is a
ghostly worker. Not by years of groping and sacrifice does he find his
highest expression; the sacrificial past is within 'him; his art is an
inheritance; his fingers are guided by the dead in the delineation of a
flying bird, of the vapours of mountains, of the colours of the morning
and the evening, of the shape of branches and the spring burst of
flowers: generations of skilled workmen have given him their cunning,
and revive in the wonder of his drawing. What was conscious effort in
the beginning became unconscious in later centuries--becomes almost
automatic in the living man,--becomes the art instinctive. Wherefore,
one coloured print by a Hokusai or Hiroshige, originally sold for less
than a cent, may have more real art in it than many a Western painting
valued at more than the worth of a whole Japanese street.
Here are Hokusai's own figures walking about in straw raincoats, and
immense mushroom-shaped hats of straw, and straw sandals--bare-limbed
peasants, deeply tanned by wind and sun; and patient-faced mothers with
smiling bald babies on their backs, toddling by upon their geta (high,
noisy, wooden clogs), and robed merchants squatting and smoking their
little brass pipes among the countless riddles of their shops.
Then I notice how small and shapely the feet of the people are--whether
bare brown feet of peasants, or beautiful feet of children wearing tiny,
tiny geta, or feet of young girls in snowy tabi. The tabi, the white
digitated stocking, gives to a small light foot a mythological aspect--
the white cleft grace of the foot of a fauness. Clad or bare, the
Japanese foot has the antique symmetry: it has not yet been distorted by
the infamous foot-gear which has deformed the feet of Occidentals. Of
every pair of Japanese wooden clogs, one makes in walking a slightly
different sound from the other, as kring to krang; so that the echo of
the walker's steps has an alternate rhythm of tones. On a pavement, such
as that of a railway station, the sound obtains immense sonority; and a
crowd will sometimes intentionally fall into step, with the drollest
conceivable result of drawling wooden noise.
'Tera e yuke!'
I have been obliged to return to the European hotel--not because of the
noon-meal, as I really begrudge myself the time necessary to eat it, but
because I cannot make Cha understand that I want to visit a Buddhist
temple. Now Cha understands; my landlord has uttered the mystical words:
'Tera e yuke!'
A few minutes of running along broad thoroughfares lined with gardens
and costly ugly European buildings; then passing the bridge of a canal
stocked with unpainted sharp-prowed craft of extraordinary construction,
we again plunge into narrow, low, bright pretty streets--into another
part of the Japanese city. And Cha runs at the top of his speed between
more rows of little ark-shaped houses, narrower above than below;
between other unfamiliar lines of little open shops. And always over the
shops little strips of blue-tiled roof slope back to the paper-screened
chamber of upper floors; and from all the facades hang draperies dark
blue, or white, or crimson--foot-breadths of texture covered with
beautiful Japanese lettering, white on blue, red on black, black on
white. But all this flies by swiftly as a dream. Once more we cross a
canal; we rush up a narrow street rising to meet a hill; and Cha,
halting suddenly before an immense flight of broad stone steps, sets the
shafts of his vehicle on the ground that I may dismount, and, pointing
to the steps, exclaims: 'Tera!'
I dismount, and ascend them, and, reaching a broad terrace, find myself
face to face with a wonderful gate, topped by a tilted, peaked, many-
cornered Chinese roof. It is all strangely carven, this gate. Dragons
are inter-twined in a frieze above its open doors; and the panels of the
doors themselves are similarly sculptured; and there are gargoyles--
grotesque lion heads--protruding from the eaves. And the whole is grey,
stone-coloured; to me, nevertheless, the carvings do not seem to have
the fixity of sculpture; all the snakeries and dragonries appear to
undulate with a swarming motion, elusively, in eddyings as of water.
I turn a moment to look back through the glorious light. Sea and sky
mingle in the same beautiful pale clear blue. Below me the billowing of
bluish roofs reaches to the verge of the unruffled bay on the right, and
to the feet of the green wooded hills flanking the city on two sides.
Beyond that semicircle of green hills rises a lofty range of serrated
mountains, indigo silhouettes. And enormously high above the line of
them towers an apparition indescribably lovely--one solitary snowy
cone, so filmily exquisite, so spiritually white, that but for its
immemorially familiar outline, one would surely deem it a shape of
cloud. Invisible its base remains, being the same delicious tint as the
sky: only above the eternal snow-line its dreamy cone appears, seeming
to hang, the ghost of a peak, between the luminous land and the luminous
heaven--the sacred and matchless mountain, Fujiyama.
And suddenly, a singular sensation comes upon me as I stand before this
weirdly sculptured portal--a sensation of dream and doubt. It seems to
me that the steps, and the dragon-swarming gate, and the blue sky
arching over the roofs of the town, and the ghostly beauty of Fuji, and
the shadow of myself there stretching upon the grey masonry, must all
vanish presently. Why such a feeling? Doubtless because the forms before
me--the curved roofs, the coiling dragons, the Chinese grotesqueries of
carving--do not really appear to me as things new, but as things
dreamed: the sight of them must have stirred to life forgotten memories
of picture-books. A moment, and the delusion vanishes; the romance of
reality returns, with freshened consciousness of all that which is truly
and deliciously new; the magical transparencies of distance, the
wondrous delicacy of the tones of the living picture, the enormous
height of the summer blue, and the white soft witchery of the Japanese
I pass on and climb more steps to a second gate with similar gargoyles
and swarming of dragons, and enter a court where graceful votive
lanterns of stone stand like monuments. On my right and left two great
grotesque stone lions are sitting--the lions of Buddha, male and
female. Beyond is a long low light building, with curved and gabled roof
of blue tiles, and three wooden steps before its entrance. Its sides are
simple wooden screens covered with thin white paper. This is the temple.
On the steps I take off my shoes; a young man slides aside the screens
closing the entrance, and bows me a gracious welcome. And I go in,
feeling under my feet a softness of matting thick as bedding. An immense
square apartment is before me, full of an unfamiliar sweet smell--the
scent of Japanese incense; but after the full blaze of the sun, the
paper-filtered light here is dim as moonshine; for a minute or two I can
see nothing but gleams of gilding in a soft gloom. Then, my eyes
becoming accustomed to the obscurity, I perceive against the paper-paned
screens surrounding the sanctuary on three sides shapes of enormous
flowers cutting like silhouettes against the vague white light. I
approach and find them to be paper flowers--symbolic lotus-blossoms
beautifully coloured, with curling leaves gilded on the upper surface
and bright green beneath, At the dark end of the apartment, facing the
entrance, is the altar of Buddha, a rich and lofty altar, covered with
bronzes and gilded utensils clustered to right and left of a shrine like
a tiny gold temple. But I see no statue; only a mystery of unfamiliar
shapes of burnished metal, relieved against darkness, a darkness behind
the shrine and altar--whether recess or inner sanctuary I cannot
The young attendant who ushered me into the temple now approaches, and,
to my great surprise, exclaims in excellent English, pointing to a
richly decorated gilded object between groups of candelabra on the
'That is the shrine of Buddha.'
'And I would like to make an offering to Buddha,' I respond.
'It is not necessary,' he says, with a polite smile.
But I insist; and he places the little offering for me upon the altar.
Then he invites me to his own room, in a wing of the building--a large
luminous room, without furniture, beautifully matted. And we sit down
upon the floor and chat. He tells me he is a student in the temple. He
learned English in Tokyo and speaks it with a curious accent, but with
fine choice of words. Finally he asks me:
'Are you a Christian?'
And I answer truthfully:
'Are you a Buddhist?'
'Why do you make offerings if you do not believe in Buddha?'
'I revere the beauty of his teaching, and the faith of those who
'Are there Buddhists in England and America?'
'There are, at least, a great many interested in Buddhist
And he takes from an alcove a little book, and gives it to me to
examine. It is an English copy of Olcott's Buddhist Catechism.
'Why is there no image of Buddha in your temple?' I ask.
'There is a small one in the shrine upon the altar,' the student
answers; 'but the shrine is closed. And we have several large ones. But
the image of Buddha is not exposed here every day--only upon festal
days. And some images are exposed only once or twice a year.
From my place, I can see, between the open paper screens, men and women
ascending the steps, to kneel and pray before the entrance of the
temple. They kneel with such naive reverence, so gracefully and so
naturally, that the kneeling of our Occidental devotees seems a clumsy
stumbling by comparison. Some only join their hands; others clap them
three times loudly and slowly; then they bow their heads, pray silently
for a moment, and rise and depart. The shortness of the prayers
impresses me as something novel and interesting. From time to time I
hear the clink and rattle of brazen coin cast into the great wooden
money-box at the entrance.
I turn to the young student, and ask him:
'Why do they clap their hands three times before they pray?'
'Three times for the Sansai, the Three Powers: Heaven, Earth, Man.'
'But do they clap their hands to call the Gods, as Japanese clap their
hands to summon their attendants?'
'Oh, no!' he replied. 'The clapping of hands represents only the
awakening from the Dream of the Long Night.' 
'What night? what dream?'
He hesitates some moments before making answer:
'The Buddha said: All beings are only dreaming in this fleeting world
'Then the clapping of hands signifies that in prayer the soul awakens
from such dreaming?'
'You understand what I mean by the word "soul"?'
'Oh, yes! Buddhists believe the soul always was--always will be.'
'Even in Nirvana?'
While we are thus chatting the Chief Priest of the temple enters--a
very aged man-accompanied by two young priests, and I am presented to
them; and the three bow very low, showing me the glossy crowns of their
smoothly-shaven heads, before seating themselves in the fashion of gods
upon the floor. I observe they do not smile; these are the first
Japanese I have seen who do not smile: their faces are impassive as the
faces of images. But their long eyes observe me very closely, while the
student interprets their questions, and while I attempt to tell them
something about the translations of the Sutras in our Sacred Books of
the East, and about the labours of Beal and Burnouf and Feer and Davids
and Kern, and others. They listen without change of countenance, and
utter no word in response to the young student's translation of my
remarks. Tea, however, is brought in and set before me in a tiny cup,
placed in a little brazen saucer, shaped like a lotus-leaf; and I am
invited to partake of some little sugar-cakes (kwashi), stamped with a
figure which I recognise as the Swastika, the ancient Indian symbol of
the Wheel of the Law.
As I rise to go, all rise with me; and at the steps the student asks for
my name and address. 'For,' he adds, 'you will not see me here again, as
I am going to leave the temple. But I will visit you.'
'And your name?' I ask.
'Call me Akira,' he answers.
At the threshold I bow my good-bye; and they all bow very, very low,-
one blue-black head, three glossy heads like balls of ivory. And as I
go, only Akira smiles.
'Tera?' queries Cha, with his immense white hat in his hand, as I resume
my seat in the jinricksha at the foot of the steps. Which no doubt
means, do I want to see any more temples? Most certainly I do: I have
not yet seen Buddha.
'Yes, tera, Cha.'
And again begins the long panorama of mysterious shops and tilted eaves,
and fantastic riddles written over everything. I have no idea in what
direction Cha is running. I only know that the streets seem to become
always narrower as we go, and that some of the houses look like great
wickerwork pigeon-cages only, and that we pass over several bridges
before we halt again at the foot of another hill. There is a lofty
flight of steps here also, and before them a structure which I know is
both a gate and a symbol, imposing, yet in no manner resembling the
great Buddhist gateway seen before. Astonishingly simple all the lines
of it are: it has no carving, no colouring, no lettering upon it; yet it
has a weird solemnity, an enigmatic beauty. It is a torii.
'Miya,' observes Cha. Not a tera this time, but a shrine of the gods of
the more ancient faith of the land--a miya.
I am standing before a Shinto symbol; I see for the first time, out of a
picture at least, a torii. How describe a torii to those who have never
looked at one even in a photograph or engraving? Two lofty columns, like
gate-pillars, supporting horizontally two cross-beams, the lower and
lighter beam having its ends fitted into the columns a little distance
below their summits; the uppermost and larger beam supported upon the
tops of the columns, and projecting well beyond them to right and left.
That is a torii: the construction varying little in design, whether made
of stone, wood, or metal. But this description can give no correct idea
of the appearance of a torii, of its majestic aspect, of its mystical
suggestiveness as a gateway. The first time you see a noble one, you
will imagine, perhaps, that you see the colossal model of some beautiful
Chinese letter towering against the sky; for all the lines of the thing
have the grace of an animated ideograph,--have the bold angles and
curves of characters made with four sweeps of a master-brush. 
Passing the torii I ascend a flight of perhaps one hundred stone steps,
and find at their summit a second torii, from whose lower cross-beam
hangs festooned the mystic shimenawa. It is in this case a hempen rope
of perhaps two inches in diameter through its greater length, but
tapering off at either end like a snake. Sometimes the shimenawa is made
of bronze, when the torii itself is of bronze; but according to
tradition it should be made of straw, and most commonly is. For it
represents the straw rope which the deity Futo-tama-no-mikoto stretched
behind the Sun-goddess, Ama-terasu-oho-mi-Kami, after Ame-no-ta-jikara-
wo-no-Kami, the Heavenly-hand-strength-god, had pulled her out, as is
told in that ancient myth of Shinto which Professor Chamberlain has
translated.  And the shimenawa, in its commoner and simpler form,
has pendent tufts of straw along its entire length, at regular
intervals, because originally made, tradition declares, of grass pulled
up by the roots which protruded from the twist of it.
Advancing beyond this torii, I find myself in a sort of park or
pleasure-ground on the summit of the hill. There is a small temple on
the right; it is all closed up; and I have read so much about the
disappointing vacuity of Shinto temples that I do not regret the absence
of its guardian. And I see before me what is infinitely more
interesting,--a grove of cherry-trees covered with something
unutterably beautiful,--a dazzling mist of snowy blossoms clinging like
summer cloud-fleece about every branch and twig; and the ground beneath
them, and the path before me, is white with the soft, thick, odorous
snow of fallen petals.
Beyond this loveliness are flower-plots surrounding tiny shrines; and
marvellous grotto-work, full of monsters--dragons and mythologic beings
chiselled in the rock; and miniature landscape work with tiny groves of
dwarf trees, and Lilliputian lakes, and microscopic brooks and bridges
and cascades. Here, also, are swings for children. And here are
belvederes, perched on the verge of the hill, wherefrom the whole fair
city, and the whole smooth bay speckled with fishing-sails no bigger
than pin-heads, and the far, faint, high promontories reaching into the
sea, are all visible in one delicious view--blue-pencilled in a beauty
of ghostly haze indescribable.
Why should the trees be so lovely in Japan? With us, a plum or cherry
tree in flower is not an astonishing sight; but here it is a miracle of
beauty so bewildering that, however much you may have previously read
about it, the real spectacle strikes you dumb. You see no leaves--only
one great filmy mist of petals. Is it that the trees have been so long
domesticated and caressed by man in this land of the Gods, that they
have acquired souls, and strive to show their gratitude, like women
loved, by making themselves more beautiful for man's sake? Assuredly
they have mastered men's hearts by their loveliness, like beautiful
slaves. That is to say, Japanese hearts. Apparently there have been some
foreign tourists of the brutal class in this place, since it has been
deemed necessary to set up inscriptions in English announcing that 'IT
IS FORBIDDEN TO INJURE THE TREES.'
'Yes, Cha, tera.'
But only for a brief while do I traverse Japanese streets. The houses
separate, become scattered along the feet of the hills: the city thins
away through little valleys, and vanishes at last behind. And we follow
a curving road overlooking the sea. Green hills slope steeply down to
the edge of the way on the right; on the left, far below, spreads a vast
stretch of dun sand and salty pools to a line of surf so distant that it
is discernible only as a moving white thread. The tide is out; and
thousands of cockle-gatherers are scattered over the sands, at such
distances that their stooping figures, dotting the glimmering sea-bed,
appear no larger than gnats. And some are coming along the road before
us, returning from their search with well-filled baskets--girls with
faces almost as rosy as the faces of English girls.
As the jinricksha rattles on, the hills dominating the road grow higher.
All at once Cha halts again before the steepest and loftiest flight of
temple steps I have yet seen.
I climb and climb and climb, halting perforce betimes, to ease the
violent aching of my quadriceps muscles; reach the top completely out of
breath; and find myself between two lions of stone; one showing his
fangs, the other with jaws closed. Before me stands the temple, at the
farther end of a small bare plateau surrounded on three sides by low
cliffs,-a small temple, looking very old and grey. From a rocky height
to the left of the building, a little cataract rumbles down into a pool,
ringed in by a palisade. The voice of the water drowns all other sounds.
A sharp wind is blowing from the ocean: the place is chill even in the
sun, and bleak, and desolate, as if no prayer had been uttered in it for
a hundred years.
Cha taps and calls, while I take off my shoes upon the worn wooden steps
of the temple; and after a minute of waiting, we bear a muffled step
approaching and a hollow cough behind the paper screens. They slide
open; and an old white-robed priest appears, and motions me, with a low
bow, to enter. He has a kindly face; and his smile of welcome seems to
me one of the most exquisite I have ever been greeted 'with Then he
coughs again, so badly that I think if I ever come here another time, I
shall ask for him in vain.
I go in, feeling that soft, spotless, cushioned matting beneath my feet
with which the floors of all Japanese buildings are covered. I pass the
indispensable bell and lacquered reading-desk; and before me I see other
screens only, stretching from floor to ceiling. The old man, still
coughing, slides back one of these upon the right, and waves me into the
dimness of an inner sanctuary, haunted by faint odours of incense. A
colossal bronze lamp, with snarling gilded dragons coiled about its
columnar stem, is the first object I discern; and, in passing it, my
shoulder sets ringing a festoon of little bells suspended from the
lotus-shaped summit of it. Then I reach the altar, gropingly, unable yet
to distinguish forms clearly. But the priest, sliding back screen after
screen, pours in light upon the gilded brasses and the inscriptions; and
I look for the image of the Deity or presiding Spirit between the altar-
groups of convoluted candelabra. And I see--only a mirror, a round,
pale disk of polished metal, and my own face therein, and behind this
mockery of me a phantom of the far sea.
Only a mirror! Symbolising what? Illusion? or that the Universe exists
for us solely as the reflection of our own souls? or the old Chinese
teaching that we must seek the Buddha only in our own hearts? Perhaps
some day I shall be able to find out all these things.
As I sit on the temple steps, putting on my shoes preparatory to going,
the kind old priest approaches me again, and, bowing, presents a bowl. I
hastily drop some coins in it, imagining it to be a Buddhist alms-bowl,
before discovering it to be full of hot water. But the old man's
beautiful courtesy saves me from feeling all the grossness of my
mistake. Without a word, and still preserving his kindly smile, he takes
the bowl away, and, returning presently with another bowl, empty, fills
it with hot water from a little kettle, and makes a sign to me to drink.
Tea is most usually offered to visitors at temples; but this little
shrine is very, very poor; and I have a suspicion that the old priest
suffers betimes for want of what no fellow-creature should be permitted
to need. As I descend the windy steps to the roadway I see him still
looking after me, and I hear once more his hollow cough.
Then the mockery of the mirror recurs to me. I am beginning to wonder
whether I shall ever be able to discover that which I seek--outside of
myself! That is, outside of my own imagination.
'Tera?' once more queries Cha.
'Tera, no--it is getting late. Hotel, Cha.'
But Cha, turning the corner of a narrow street, on our homeward route,
halts the jinricksha before a shrine or tiny temple scarcely larger than
the smallest of Japanese shops, yet more of a surprise to me than any of
the larger sacred edifices already visited. For, on either side of the
entrance, stand two monster-figures, nude, blood-red, demoniac,
fearfully muscled, with feet like lions, and hands brandishing gilded
thunderbolts, and eyes of delirious fury; the guardians of holy things,
the Ni-O, or "Two Kings."  And right between these crimson monsters
a young girl stands looking at us; her slight figure, in robe of silver
grey and girdle of iris-violet, relieved deliciously against the
twilight darkness of the interior. Her face, impassive and curiously
delicate, would charm wherever seen; but here, by strange contrast with
the frightful grotesqueries on either side of her, it produces an effect
unimaginable. Then I find myself wondering whether my feeling of
repulsion toward those twin monstrosities be altogether lust, seeing
that so charming a maiden deems them worthy of veneration. And they even
cease to seem ugly as I watch her standing there between them, dainty
and slender as some splendid moth, and always naively gazing at the
foreigner, utterly unconscious that they might have seemed to him both
unholy and uncomely.
What are they? Artistically they are Buddhist transformations of Brahma
and of Indra. Enveloped by the absorbing, all-transforming magical
atmosphere of Buddhism, Indra can now wield his thunderbolts only in
defence of the faith which has dethroned him: he has become a keeper of
the temple gates; nay, has even become a servant of Bosatsu
(Bodhisattvas), for this is only a shrine of Kwannon, Goddess of Mercy,
not yet a Buddha.
'Hotel, Cha, hotel!' I cry out again, for the way is long, and the sun
sinking,--sinking in the softest imaginable glow of topazine light. I
have not seen Shaka (so the Japanese have transformed the name Sakya-
Muni); I have not looked upon the face of the Buddha. Perhaps I may be
able to find his image to-morrow, somewhere in this wilderness of wooden
streets, or upon the summit of some yet unvisited hill.
The sun is gone; the topaz-light is gone; and Cha stops to light his
lantern of paper; and we hurry on again, between two long lines of
painted paper lanterns suspended before the shops: so closely set, so
level those lines are, that they seem two interminable strings of pearls
of fire. And suddenly a sound--solemn, profound, mighty--peals to my
ears over the roofs of the town, the voice of the tsurigane, the great
temple-bell of Nogiyama.
All too short the day seemed. Yet my eyes have been so long dazzled by
the great white light, and so confused by the sorcery of that
interminable maze of mysterious signs which made each street vista seem
a glimpse into some enormous grimoire, that they are now weary even of
the soft glowing of all these paper lanterns, likewise covered with
characters that look like texts from a Book of Magic. And I feel at last
the coming of that drowsiness which always follows enchantment.
A woman's voice ringing through the night, chanting in a tone of
singular sweetness words of which each syllable comes through my open
window like a wavelet of flute-sound. My Japanese servant, who speaks a
little English. has told me what they mean, those words:
And always between these long, sweet calls I hear a plaintive whistle,
one long note first, then two short ones in another key. It is the
whistle of the amma, the poor blind woman who earns her living by
shampooing the sick or the weary, and whose whistle warns pedestrians
and drivers of vehicles to take heed for her sake, as she cannot see.
And she sings also that the weary and the sick may call her in.
The saddest melody, but the sweetest voice. Her cry signifies that for
the sum of 'five hundred mon' she will come and rub your weary body
'above and below,' and make the weariness or the pain go away. Five
hundred mon are the equivalent of five sen (Japanese cents); there are
ten rin to a sen, and ten mon to one rin. The strange sweetness of the
voice is haunting,--makes me even wish to have some pains, that I might
pay five hundred mon to have them driven away.
I lie down to sleep, and I dream. I see Chinese texts--multitudinous,
weird, mysterious--fleeing by me, all in one direction; ideographs
white and dark, upon signboards, upon paper screens, upon backs of
sandalled men. They seem to live, these ideographs, with conscious life;
they are moving their parts, moving with a movement as of insects,
monstrously, like phasmidae. I am rolling always through low, narrow,
luminous streets in a phantom jinricksha, whose wheels make no sound.
And always, always, I see the huge white mushroom-shaped hat of Cha
dancing up and down before me as he runs.
Chapter Two The Writing of Kobodaishi
KOBODAISHI, most holy of Buddhist priests, and founder of the Shingon-
sho--which is the sect of Akira--first taught the men of Japan to
write the writing called Hiragana and the syllabary I-ro-ha; and
Kobodaishi was himself the most wonderful of all writers, and the most
skilful wizard among scribes.
And in the book, Kobodaishi-ichi-dai-ki, it is related that when he was
in China, the name of a certain room in the palace of the Emperor having
become effaced by time, the Emperor sent for him and bade him write the
name anew. Thereupon Kobodaishi took a brush in his right hand, and a
brush in his left, and one brush between the toes of his left foot, and
another between the toes of his right, and one in his mouth also; and
with those five brushes, so holding them, he limned the characters upon
the wall. And the characters were beautiful beyond any that had ever
been seen in China--smooth-flowing as the ripples in the current of a
river. And Kobodaishi then took a brush, and with it from a distance
spattered drops of ink upon the wall; and the drops as they fell became
transformed and turned into beautiful characters. And the Emperor gave
to Kobodaishi the name Gohitsu Osho, signifying The Priest who writes
with Five Brushes.
At another time, while the saint was dwelling in Takawasan, near to
Kyoto, the Emperor, being desirous that Kobodaishi should write the
tablet for the great temple called Kongo-jo-ji, gave the tablet to a
messenger and bade him carry it to Kobodaishi, that Kobodaishi might
letter it. But when the Emperor s messenger, bearing the tablet, came
near to the place where Kobodaishi dwelt, he found a river before him so
much swollen by rain that no man might cross it. In a little while,
however, Kobodaishi appeared upon the farther bank, and, hearing from
the messenger what the Emperor desired, called to him to hold up the
tablet. And the messenger did so; and Kobodaishi, from his place upon
the farther bank, made the movements of the letters with his brush; and
as fast as he made them they appeared upon the tablet which the
messenger was holding up.
Now in that time Kobodaishi was wont to meditate alone by the river-
side; and one day, while so meditating, he was aware of a boy standing
before him, gazing at him curiously. The garments of the boy were as the
garments worn by the needy; but his face was beautiful. And while
Kobodaishi wondered, the boy asked him: 'Are you Kobodaishi, whom men
call "Gohitsu-Osho"--the priest who writes with five brushes at once?'
And Kobodaishi answered: 'I am he.' Then said the boy: 'If you be he,
write, I pray you, upon the sky.' And Kobodaishi, rising, took his
brush, and made with it movements toward the sky as if writing; and
presently upon the face of the sky the letters appeared, most
beautifully wrought. Then the boy said: 'Now I shall try;' and he wrote
also upon the sky as Kobodaishi had done. And he said again to
Kobodaishi: 'I pray you, write for me--write upon the surface of the
river.' Then Kobodaishi wrote upon the water a poem in praise of the
water; and for a moment the characters remained, all beautiful, upon the
face of the stream, as if they had fallen upon it like leaves; but
presently they moved with the current and floated away. 'Now I will
try,' said the boy; and he wrote upon the water the Dragon-character--
the character Ryu in the writing which is called Sosho, the 'Grass-
character;' and the character remained upon the flowing surface and
moved not. But Kobodaishi saw that the boy had not placed the ten, the
little dot belonging to the character, beside it. And he asked the boy:
'Why did you not put the ten?' 'Oh, I forgot!' answered the boy; 'please
put it there for me,' and Kobodaishi then made the dot. And lo! the
Dragon-character became a Dragon; and the Dragon moved terribly in the
waters; and the sky darkened with thunder-clouds, and blazed with
lightnings; and the Dragon ascended in a whirl of tempest to heaven.
Then Kobodaishi asked the boy: 'Who are you?' And the boy made answer:
'I am he whom men worship on the mountain Gotai; I am the Lord of
Wisdom,--Monju Bosatsu!' And even as he spoke the boy became changed;
and his beauty became luminous like the beauty of gods; and his limbs
became radiant, shedding soft light about. And, smiling, he rose to
heaven and vanished beyond the clouds.
But Kobodaishi himself once forgot to put the ten beside the character O
on the tablet which he painted with the name of the Gate O-Te-mon of the
Emperor's palace. And the Emperor at Kyoto having asked him why he had
not put the ten beside the character, Kobodaishi answered: 'I forgot;
but I will put it on now.' Then the Emperor bade ladders be brought; for
the tablet was already in place, high above the gate. But Kobodaishi,
standing on the pavement before the gate, simply threw his brush at the
tablet; and the brush, so thrown, made the ten there most admirably, and
fell back into his hand.
Kobodaishi also painted the tablet of the gate called Ko-kamon of the
Emperor's palace at Kyoto. Now there was a man, dwelling near that gate,
whose name was Kino Momoye; and he ridiculed the characters which
Kobodaishi had made, and pointed to one of them, saying: 'Why, it looks
like a swaggering wrestler!' But the same night Momoye dreamed that a
wrestler had come to his bedside and leaped upon him, and was beating
him with his fists. And, crying out with the pain of the blows, he
awoke, and saw the wrestler rise in air, and change into the written
character he had laughed at, and go back to the tablet over the gate.
And there was another writer, famed greatly for his skill, named Onomo
Toku, who laughed at some characters on the tablet of the Gate Shukaku-
mon, written by Kobodaishi; and he said, pointing to the character Shu:
'Verily shu looks like the character "rice".' And that night he dreamed
that the character he had mocked at became a man; and that the man fell
upon him and beat him, and jumped up and down upon his face many times--
even as a kometsuki, a rice-cleaner, leaps up and down to move the
hammers that beat the rice--saying the while: 'Lo! I am the messenger
of Kobodaishi!' And, waking, he found himself bruised and bleeding as
one that had been grievously trampled.
And long after Kobodaishi's death it was found that the names written by
him on the two gates of the Emperor's palace Bi-fuku-mon, the Gate of
Beautiful Fortune; and Ko-ka-mon, the Gate of Excellent Greatness--were
well-nigh effaced by time. And the Emperor ordered a Dainagon , whose
name was Yukinari, to restore the tablets. But Yukinari was afraid to
perform the command of the Emperor, by reason of what had befallen other
men; and, fearing the divine anger of Kobodaishi, he made offerings, and
prayed for some token of permission. And the same night, in a dream,
Kobodaishi appeared to him, smiling gently, and said: 'Do the work even
as the Emperor desires, and have no fear.' So he restored the tablets in
the first month of the fourth year of Kwanko, as is recorded in the
And all these things have been related to me by my friend Akira.
Chapter Three Jizo
I HAVE passed another day in wandering among the temples, both Shinto
and Buddhist. I have seen many curious things; but I have not yet seen
the face of the Buddha.
Repeatedly, after long wearisome climbing of stone steps, and passing
under gates full of gargoyles--heads of elephants and heads of lions--
and entering shoeless into scented twilight, into enchanted gardens of
golden lotus-flowers of paper, and there waiting for my eyes to become
habituated to the dimness, I have looked in vain for images. Only an
opulent glimmering confusion of things half-seen--vague altar-
splendours created by gilded bronzes twisted into riddles, by vessels of
indescribable shape, by enigmatic texts of gold, by mysterious
glittering pendent things--all framing in only a shrine with doors fast
What has most impressed me is the seeming joyousness of popular faith. I
have seen nothing grim, austere, or self-repressive. I have not even
noted anything approaching the solemn. The bright temple courts and even
the temple steps are thronged with laughing children, playing curious
games; arid mothers, entering the sanctuary to pray, suffer their little
ones to creep about the matting and crow. The people take their religion
lightly and cheerfully: they drop their cash in the great alms-box, clap
their hands, murmur a very brief prayer, then turn to laugh and talk and
smoke their little pipes before the temple entrance. Into some shrines,
I have noticed the worshippers do not enter at all; they merely stand
before the doors and pray for a few seconds, and make their small
offerings. Blessed are they who do not too much fear the gods which they
Akira is bowing and smiling at the door. He slips off his sandals,
enters in his white digitated stockings, and, with another smile and
bow, sinks gently into the proffered chair. Akira is an interesting boy.
With his smooth beardless face and clear bronze skin and blue-black hair
trimmed into a shock that shadows his forehead to the eyes, he has
almost the appearance, in his long wide-sleeved robe and snowy
stockings, of a young Japanese girl.
I clap my hands for tea, hotel tea, which he calls 'Chinese tea.' I
offer him a cigar, which he declines; but with my permission, he will
smoke his pipe. Thereupon he draws from his girdle a Japanese pipe-case
and tobacco-pouch combined; pulls out of the pipe-case a little brass
pipe with a bowl scarcely large enough to hold a pea; pulls out of the
pouch some tobacco so finely cut that it looks like hair, stuffs a tiny
pellet of this preparation in the pipe, and begins to smoke. He draws
the smoke into his lungs, and blows it out again through his nostrils.
Three little whiffs, at intervals of about half a minute, and the pipe,
emptied, is replaced in its case.
Meanwhile I have related to Akira the story of my disappointments.
'Oh, you can see him to-day,' responds Akira, 'if you will take a walk
with me to the Temple of Zotokuin. For this is the Busshoe, the festival
of the Birthday of Buddha. But he is very small, only a few inches high.
If you want to see a great Buddha, you must go to Kamakura. There is a
Buddha in that place, sitting upon a lotus; and he is fifty feet high.'
So I go forth under the guidance of Akira. He says he may be able to
show me 'some curious things.'
There is a sound of happy voices from the temple, and the steps are
crowded with smiling mothers and laughing children. Entering, I find
women and babies pressing about a lacquered table in front of the
doorway. Upon it is a little tub-shaped vessel of sweet tea--amacha;
and standing in the tea is a tiny figure of Buddha, one hand pointing
upward and one downward. The women, having made the customary offering,
take up some of the tea with a wooden ladle of curious shape, and pour
it over the statue, and then, filling the ladle a second time, drink a
little, and give a sip to their babies. This is the ceremony of washing
the statue of Buddha.
Near the lacquered stand on which the vessel of sweet tea rests is
another and lower stand supporting a temple bell shaped like a great
bowl. A priest approaches with a padded mallet in his hand and strikes
the bell. But the bell does not sound properly: he starts, looks into
it, and stoops to lift out of it a smiling Japanese baby. The mother,
laughing, runs to relieve him of his burden; and priest, mother, and
baby all look at us with a frankness of mirth in which we join.
Akira leaves me a moment to speak with one of the temple attendants, and
presently returns with a curious lacquered box, about a foot in length,
and four inches wide on each of its four sides. There is only a small
hole in one end of it; no appearance of a lid of any sort.
'Now,' says Akira, 'if you wish to pay two sen, we shall learn our
future lot according to the will of the gods.'
I pay the two sen, and Akira shakes the box. Out comes a narrow slip of
bamboo, with Chinese characters written thereon.
'Kitsu!' cries Akira. 'Good-fortune. The number is fifty-and-one.'
Again he shakes the box; a second bamboo slip issues from the slit.
'Dai kitsu! great good-fortune. The number is ninety-and-nine.
Once more the box is shaken; once more the oracular bamboo protrudes.
'Kyo!' laughs Akira. 'Evil will befall us. The number is sixty-and-
He returns the box to a priest, and receives three mysterious papers,
numbered with numbers corresponding to the numbers of the bamboo slips.
These little bamboo slips, or divining-sticks, are called mikuji.
This, as translated by Akira, is the substance of the text of the paper
'He who draweth forth this mikuji, let him live according to the
heavenly law and worship Kwannon. If his trouble be a sickness, it shall
pass from him. If he have lost aught, it shall be found. If he have a
suit at law, he shall gain. If he love a woman, he shall surely win her
-though he should have to wait. And many happinesses will come to him.'
The dai-kitsu paper reads almost similarly, with the sole differences
that, instead of Kwannon, the deities of wealth and prosperity--
Daikoku, Bishamon, and Benten--are to be worshipped, and that the
fortunate man will not have to wait at all for the woman loved. But the
kyo paper reads thus:
'He who draweth forth this mikuji, it will be well for him to obey the
heavenly law and to worship Kwannon the Merciful. If he have any
sickness, even much more sick he shall become. If he have lost aught, it
shall never be found. If he have a suit at law, he shall never gain it.
If he love a woman, let him have no more expectation of winning her.
Only by the most diligent piety can he hope to escape the most frightful
calamities. And there shall be no felicity in his portion.'
'All the same, we are fortunate,' declares Akira. 'Twice out of three
times we have found luck. Now we will go to see another statue of
Buddha.' And he guides me, through many curious streets, to the
southern verge of the city.
Before us rises a hill, with a broad flight of stone steps sloping to
its summit, between foliage of cedars and maples. We climb; and I see
above me the Lions of Buddha waiting--the male yawning menace, the
female with mouth closed. Passing between them, we enter a large temple
court, at whose farther end rises another wooded eminence.
And here is the temple, with roof of blue-painted copper tiles, and
tilted eaves and gargoyles and dragons, all weather-stained to one
neutral tone. The paper screens are open, but a melancholy rhythmic
chant from within tells us that the noonday service is being held: the
priests are chanting the syllables of Sanscrit texts transliterated into
Chinese--intoning the Sutra called the Sutra of the Lotus of the Good
Law. One of those who chant keeps time by tapping with a mallet, cotton-
wrapped, some grotesque object shaped like a dolphin's head, all
lacquered in scarlet and gold, which gives forth a dull, booming tone--
To the right of the temple is a little shrine, filling the air with
fragrance of incense-burning. I peer in through the blue smoke that
curls up from half a dozen tiny rods planted in a small brazier full of
ashes; and far back in the shadow I see a swarthy Buddha, tiara-coiffed,
with head bowed and hands joined, just as I see the Japanese praying,
erect in the sun, before the thresholds of temples. The figure is of
wood, rudely wrought and rudely coloured: still the placid face has
beauty of suggestion.
Crossing the court to the left of the building, I find another flight of
steps before me, leading up a slope to something mysterious still
higher, among enormous trees. I ascend these steps also, reach the top,
guarded by two small symbolic lions, and suddenly find myself in cool
shadow, and startled by a spectacle totally unfamiliar.
Dark--almost black--soil and the shadowing of trees immemorially old,
through whose vaulted foliage the sunlight leaks thinly down in rare
flecks; a crepuscular light, tender and solemn, revealing the weirdest
host of unfamiliar shapes--a vast congregation of grey, columnar, mossy
things, stony, monumental, sculptured with Chinese ideographs. And about
them, behind them, rising high above them, thickly set as rushes in a
marsh-verge, tall slender wooden tablets, like laths, covered with
similar fantastic lettering, pierce the green gloom by thousands, by
tens of thousands.
And before I can note other details, I know that I am in a hakaba, a
cemetery--a very ancient Buddhist cemetery.
These laths are called in the Japanese tongue sotoba.  All have
notches cut upon their edges on both sides near the top-five notches;
and all are painted with Chinese characters on both faces. One
inscription is always the phrase 'To promote Buddhahood,' painted
immediately below the dead man's name; the inscription upon the other
surface is always a sentence in Sanscrit whose meaning has been
forgotten even by those priests who perform the funeral rites. One such
lath is planted behind the tomb as soon as the monument (haka) is set
up; then another every seven days for forty-nine days, then one after
the lapse of a hundred days; then one at the end of a year; then one
after the passing of three years; and at successively longer periods
others are erected during one hundred years.
And in almost every group I notice some quite new, or freshly planed
unpainted white wood, standing beside others grey or even black with
age; and there are many, still older from whose surface all the
characters have disappeared. Others are lying on the sombre clay.
Hundreds stand so loose in the soil that the least breeze jostles and
clatters them together.
Not less unfamiliar in their forms, but far more interesting, are the
monuments of stone. One shape I know represents five of the Buddhist
elements: a cube supporting a sphere which upholds a pyramid on which
rests a shallow square cup with four crescent edges and tilted corners,
and in the cup a pyriform body poised with the point upwards. These
successively typify Earth, Water, Fire, Wind, Ether, the five substances
wherefrom the body is shapen, and into which it is resolved by death;
the absence of any emblem for the Sixth element, Knowledge, touches more
than any imagery conceivable could do. And nevertheless, in the purpose
of the symbolism, this omission was never planned with the same idea
that it suggests to the Occidental mind.
Very numerous also among the monuments are low, square, flat-topped
shafts, with a Japanese inscription in black or gold, or merely cut into
the stone itself. Then there are upright slabs of various shapes and
heights, mostly rounded at the top, usually bearing sculptures in
relief. Finally, there are many curiously angled stones, or natural
rocks, dressed on one side only, with designs etched upon the smoothed
surface. There would appear to be some meaning even in the irregularity
of the shape of these slabs; the rock always seems to have been broken
out of its bed at five angles, and the manner in which it remains
balanced perpendicularly upon its pedestal is a secret that the first
hasty examination fails to reveal.
The pedestals themselves vary in construction; most have three orifices
in the projecting surface in front of the monument supported by them,
usually one large oval cavity, with two small round holes flanking it.
These smaller holes serve for the burning of incense-rods; the larger
cavity is filled with water. I do not know exactly why. Only my Japanese
companion tells me 'it is an ancient custom in Japan thus to pour out
water for the dead.' There are also bamboo cups on either side of the
monument in which to place flowers.
Many of the sculptures represent Buddha in meditation, or in the
attitude of exhorting; a few represent him asleep, with the placid,
dreaming face of a child, a Japanese child; this means Nirvana. A common
design upon many tombs also seems to be two lotus-blossoms with stalks
In one place I see a stone with an English name upon it, and above that
name a rudely chiselled cross. Verily the priests of Buddha have blessed
tolerance; for this is a Christian tomb!
And all is chipped and mouldered and mossed; and the grey stones stand
closely in hosts of ranks, only one or two inches apart, ranks of
thousands upon thousands, always in the shadow of the great trees.
Overhead innumerable birds sweeten the air with their trilling; and far
below, down the steps behind us, I still hear the melancholy chant of
the priests, faintly, like a humming of bees.
Akira leads the way in silence to where other steps descend into a
darker and older part of the cemetery; and at the head of the steps, to
the right, I see a group of colossal monuments, very tall, massive,
mossed by time, with characters cut more than two inches deep into the
grey rock of them. And behind them, in lieu of laths, are planted large
sotoba, twelve to fourteen feet high, and thick as the beams of a temple
roof. These are graves of priests.
Descending the shadowed steps, I find myself face to face with six
little statues about three feet high, standing in a row upon one long
pedestal. The first holds a Buddhist incense-box; the second, a lotus;
the third, a pilgrim's staff (tsue); the fourth is telling the beads of
a Buddhist rosary; the fifth stands in the attitude of prayer, with
hands joined; the sixth bears in one hand the shakujo or mendicant
priest's staff, having six rings attached to the top of it and in the
other hand the mystic jewel, Nio-i ho-jiu, by virtue whereof all desires
may be accomplished. But the faces of the Six are the same: each figure
differs from the other by the attitude only and emblematic attribute;
and all are smiling the like faint smile. About the neck of each figure
a white cotton bag is suspended; and all the bags are filled with
pebbles; and pebbles have been piled high also about the feet of the
statues, and upon their knees, and upon their shoulders; and even upon
their aureoles of stone, little pebbles are balanced. Archaic,
mysterious, but inexplicably touching, all these soft childish faces
Roku Jizo--'The Six Jizo'--these images are called in the speech of
the people; and such groups may be seen in many a Japanese cemetery.
They are representations of the most beautiful and tender figure in
Japanese popular faith, that charming divinity who cares for the souls
of little children, and consoles them in the place of unrest, and saves
them from the demons. 'But why are those little stones piled about the
statues?' I ask.
Well, it is because some say the child-ghosts must build little towers
of stones for penance in the Sai-no-Kawara, which is the place to which
all children after death must go. And the Oni, who are demons, come to
throw down the little stone-piles as fast as the children build; and
these demons frighten the children, and torment them. But the little
souls run to Jizo, who hides them in his great sleeves, and comforts
them, and makes the demons go away. And every stone one lays upon the
knees or at the feet of Jizo, with a prayer from the heart, helps some
child-soul in the Sai-no-Kawara to perform its long penance. 
'All little children,' says the young Buddhist student who tells all
this, with a smile as gentle as Jizo's own, 'must go to the Sai-no-
Kawara when they die. And there they play with Jizo. The Sai-no-Kawara
is beneath us, below the ground. 
'And Jizo has long sleeves to his robe; and they pull him by the sleeves
in their play; and they pile up little stones before him to amuse
themselves. And those stones you see heaped about the statues are put
there by people for the sake of the little ones, most often by mothers
of dead children who pray to Jizo. But grown people do not go to the
Sai-no-Kawara when they die.' 
And the young student, leaving the Roku-Jizo, leads the way to other
strange surprises, guiding me among the tombs, showing me the sculptured
Some of them are quaintly touching; all are interesting; a few are
The greater number have nimbi. Many are represented kneeling, with hands
joined exactly like the figures of saints in old Christian art. Others,
holding lotus-flowers, appear to dream the dreams that are meditations.
One figure reposes on the coils of a great serpent. Another, coiffed
with something resembling a tiara, has six hands, one pair joined in
prayer, the rest, extended, holding out various objects; and this figure
stands upon a prostrate demon, crouching face downwards. Yet another
image, cut in low relief, has arms innumerable. The first pair of hands
are joined, with the palms together; while from behind the line of the
shoulders, as if shadowily emanating therefrom, multitudinous arms reach
out in all directions, vapoury, spiritual, holding forth all kinds of
objects as in answer to supplication, and symbolising, perhaps, the
omnipotence of love. This is but one of the many forms of Kwannon, the
goddess of mercy, the gentle divinity who refused the rest of Nirvana to
save the souls of men, and who is most frequently pictured as a
beautiful Japanese girl. But here she appears as Senjiu-Kwannon
(Kwannon-of-the-Thousand-Hands). Close by stands a great slab bearing
upon the upper portion of its chiselled surface an image in relief of
Buddha, meditating upon a lotus; and below are carven three weird little
figures, one with hands upon its eyes, one with hands upon its ears, one
with hands upon its mouth; these are Apes. 'What do they signify?' I
inquire. My friend answers vaguely, mimicking each gesture of the three
sculptured shapes:-'I see no bad thing; I hear no bad thing; I speak no
Gradually, by dint of reiterated explanations, I myself learn to
recognise some of the gods at sight. The figure seated upon a lotus,
holding a sword in its hand, and surrounded by bickering fire, is Fudo-
Sama--Buddha as the Unmoved, the Immutable: the Sword signifies
Intellect; the Fire, Power. Here is a meditating divinity, holding in
one hand a coil of ropes: the divinity is Buddha; those are the ropes
which bind the passions and desires. Here also is Buddha slumbering,
with the gentlest, softest Japanese face--a child face--and eyes
closed, and hand pillowing the cheek, in Nirvana. Here is a beautiful
virgin-figure, standing upon a lily: Kwannon-Sama, the Japanese Madonna.
Here is a solemn seated figure, holding in one hand a vase, and lifting
the other with the gesture of a teacher: Yakushi-Sama, Buddha the All-
Healer, Physician of Souls.
Also, I see figures of animals. The Deer of Buddhist birth-stories
stands, all grace, in snowy stone, upon the summit of toro, or votive
lamps. On one tomb I see, superbly chiselled, the image of a fish, or
rather the Idea of a fish, made beautifully grotesque for sculptural
purposes, like the dolphin of Greek art. It crowns the top of a memorial
column; the broad open jaws, showing serrated teeth, rest on the summit
of the block bearing the dead man's name; the dorsal fin and elevated
tail are elaborated into decorative impossibilities. 'Mokugyo,' says
Akira. It is the same Buddhist emblem as that hollow wooden object,
lacquered scarlet-and-gold, on which the priests beat with a padded
mallet while chanting the Sutra. And, finally, in one place I perceive
a pair of sitting animals, of some mythological species, supple of
figure as greyhounds. 'Kitsune,' says Akira--'foxes.' So they are, now
that I look upon them with knowledge of their purpose; idealised foxes,
foxes spiritualised, impossibly graceful foxes. They are chiselled in
some grey stone. They have long, narrow, sinister, glittering eyes; they
seem to snarl; they are weird, very weird creatures, the servants of the
Rice-God, retainers of Inari-Sama, and properly belong, not to Buddhist
iconography, but the imagery of Shinto.
No inscriptions upon these tombs corresponding to our epitaphs. Only
family names--the names of the dead and their relatives and a
sculptured crest, usually a flower. On the sotoba, only Sanscrit words.
Farther on, I find other figures of Jizo, single reliefs, sculptured
upon tombs. But one of these is a work of art so charming that I feel a
pain at being obliged to pass it by. More sweet, assuredly, than any
imaged Christ, this dream in white stone of the playfellow of dead
children, like a beautiful young boy, with gracious eyelids half closed,
and face made heavenly by such a smile as only Buddhist art could have
imagined, the smile of infinite lovingness and supremest gentleness.
Indeed, so charming the ideal of Jizo is that in the speech of the
people a beautiful face is always likened to his--'Jizo-kao,' as the
face of Jizo.
And we come to the end of the cemetery, to the verge of the great grove.
Beyond the trees, what caressing sun, what spiritual loveliness in the
tender day! A tropic sky always seemed to me to hang so low that one
could almost bathe one's fingers in its lukewarm liquid blue by reaching
upward from any dwelling-roof. But this sky, softer, fainter, arches so
vastly as to suggest the heaven of a larger planet. And the very clouds
are not clouds, but only dreams of clouds, so filmy they are; ghosts of
clouds, diaphanous spectres, illusions!
All at once I become aware of a child standing before me, a very young
girl who looks up wonderingly at my face; so light her approach that the
joy of the birds and whispering of the leaves quite drowned the soft
sound of her feet. Her ragged garb is Japanese; but her gaze, her loose
fair hair, are not of Nippon only; the ghost of another race--perhaps
my own-watches me through her flower-blue eyes. A strange playground
surely is this for thee, my child; I wonder if all these shapes about
thee do not seem very weird, very strange, to that little soul of thine.
But no; 'tis only I who seem strange to thee; thou hast forgotten the
Other Birth, and thy father's world.
Half-caste and poor and pretty, in this foreign port! Better thou wert
with the dead about thee, child! better than the splendour of this soft
blue light the unknown darkness for thee. There the gentle Jizo would
care for thee, and hide thee in his great sleeves, and keep all evil
from thee, and play shadowy play with thee; and this thy forsaken
mother, who now comes to ask an alms for thy sake, dumbly pointing to
thy strange beauty with her patient Japanese smile, would put little
stones upon the knees of the dear god that thou mightest find rest.
'Oh, Akira! you must tell me something more about Jizo, and the ghosts
of the children in the Sai-no-Kawara.' 'I cannot tell you much more,'
answers Akira, smiling at my interest in this charming divinity; 'but if
you will come with me now to Kuboyama, I will show you, in one of the
temples there, pictures of the Sai-no-Kawara and of Jizo, and the
Judgment of Souls.'
So we take our way in two jinricksha to the Temple Rinko-ji, on
Kuboyama. We roll swiftly through a mile of many-coloured narrow
Japanese streets; then through a half-mile of pretty suburban ways,
lined with gardens, behind whose clipped hedges are homes light and
dainty as cages of wicker-work; and then, leaving our vehicles, we
ascend green hills on foot by winding paths, and traverse a region of
fields and farms. After a long walk in the hot sun we reach a village
almost wholly composed of shrines and temples.
The outlying sacred place--three buildings in one enclosure of bamboo
fences--belongs to the Shingon sect. A small open shrine, to the left
of the entrance, first attracts us. It is a dead-house: a Japanese bier
is there. But almost opposite the doorway is an altar covered with
What immediately rivets the attention is a terrible figure, all
vermilion red, towering above many smaller images--a goblin shape with
immense cavernous eyes. His mouth is widely opened as if speaking in
wrath, and his brows frown terribly. A long red beard descends upon his
red breast. And on his head is a strangely shaped crown, a crown of
black and gold, having three singular lobes: the left lobe bearing an
image of the moon; the right, an image of the sun; the central lobe is
all black. But below it, upon the deep gold-rimmed black band, flames
the mystic character signifying KING. Also, from the same crown-band
protrude at descending angles, to left and right, two gilded sceptre-
shaped objects. In one hand the King holds an object similar of form,
but larger his shaku or regal wand. And Akira explains.
This is Emma-O, Lord of Shadows, Judge of Souls, King of the Dead.' 
Of any man having a terrible countenance the Japanese are wont to say,
'His face is the face of Emma.'
At his right hand white Jizo-Sama stands upon a many-petalled rosy
At his left is the image of an aged woman--weird Sodzu-Baba, she who
takes the garments of the dead away by the banks of the River of the
Three Roads, which flows through the phantom-world. Pale blue her robe
is; her hair and skin are white; her face is strangely wrinkled; her
small, keen eyes are hard. The statue is very old, and the paint is
scaling from it in places, so as to lend it a ghastly leprous aspect.
There are also images of the Sea-goddess Benten and of Kwannon-Sama,
seated on summits of mountains forming the upper part of miniature
landscapes made of some unfamiliar composition, and beautifully
coloured; the whole being protected from careless fingering by strong
wire nettings stretched across the front of the little shrines
containing the panorama. Benten has eight arms: two of her hands are
joined in prayer; the others, extended above her, hold different objects
-a sword, a wheel, a bow, an arrow, a key, and a magical gem. Below
her, standing on the slopes of her mountain throne, are her ten robed
attendants, all in the attitude of prayer; still farther down appears
the body of a great white serpent, with its tail hanging from one
orifice in the rocks, and its head emerging from another. At the very
bottom of the hill lies a patient cow. Kwannon appears as Senjiu-
Kwannon, offering gifts to men with all the multitude of her arms of
But this is not what we came to see. The pictures of heaven and hell
await us in the Zen-Shu temple close by, whither we turn our steps.
On the way my guide tells me this:
'When one dies the body is washed and shaven, and attired in white, in
the garments of a pilgrim. And a wallet (sanyabukkero), like the wallet
of a Buddhist pilgrim, is hung about the neck of the dead; and in this
wallet are placed three rin.  And these coin are buried with the
'For all who die must, except children, pay three rin at the Sanzu-no-
Kawa, "The River of the Three Roads." When souls have reached that
river, they find there the Old Woman of the Three Roads, Sodzu-Baba,
waiting for them: she lives on the banks of that river, with her
husband, Ten Datsu-Ba. And if the Old Woman is not paid the sum of three
rin, she takes away the clothes of the dead, and hangs them upon the
The temple is small, neat, luminous with the sun pouring into its widely
opened shoji; and Akira must know the priests well, so affable their
greeting is. I make a little offering, and Akira explains the purpose of
our visit. Thereupon we are invited into a large bright apartment in a
wing of the building, overlooking a lovely garden. Little cushions are
placed on the floor for us to sit upon; and a smoking-box is brought in,
and a tiny lacquered table about eight inches high. And while one of the
priests opens a cupboard, or alcove with doors, to find the kakemono,
another brings us tea, and a plate of curious confectionery consisting
of various pretty objects made of a paste of sugar and rice flour. One
is a perfect model of a chrysanthemum blossom; another is a lotus;
others are simply large, thin, crimson lozenges bearing admirable
designs--flying birds, wading storks, fish, even miniature landscapes.
Akira picks out the chrysanthemum, and insists that I shall eat it; and
I begin to demolish the sugary blossom, petal by petal, feeling all the
while an acute remorse for spoiling so beautiful a thing.
Meanwhile four kakemono have been brought forth, unrolled, and suspended
from pegs upon the wall; and we rise to examine them.
They are very, very beautiful kakemono, miracles of drawing and of
colour-subdued colour, the colour of the best period of Japanese art;
and they are very large, fully five feet long and more than three broad,
mounted upon silk.
And these are the legends of them:
In the upper part of the painting is a scene from the Shaba, the world
of men which we are wont to call the Real--a cemetery with trees in
blossom, and mourners kneeling before tombs. All under the soft blue
light of Japanese day.
Underneath is the world of ghosts. Down through the earth-crust souls
are descending. Here they are flitting all white through inky
darknesses; here farther on, through weird twilight, they are wading the
flood of the phantom River of the Three Roads, Sanzu-no-Kawa. And here
on the right is waiting for them Sodzu-Baba, the Old Woman of the Three
Roads, ghastly and grey, and tall as a nightmare. From some she is
taking their garments;--the trees about her are heavily hung with the
garments of others gone before.
Farther down I see fleeing souls overtaken by demons--hideous blood-red
demons, with feet like lions, with faces half human, half bovine, the
physiognomy of minotaurs in fury. One is rending a soul asunder. Another
demon is forcing souls to reincarnate themselves in bodies of horses, of
dogs, of swine. And as they are thus reincarnated they flee away into
Such a gloom as the diver sees in deep-sea water, a lurid twilight. In
the midst a throne, ebon-coloured, and upon it an awful figure seated--
Emma Dai-O, Lord of Death and Judge of Souls, unpitying, tremendous.
Frightful guardian spirits hover about him--armed goblins. On the left,
in the foreground below the throne, stands the wondrous Mirror,
Tabarino-Kagami, reflecting the state of souls and all the happenings of
the world. A landscape now shadows its surface,--a landscape of cliffs
and sand and sea, with ships in the offing. Upon the sand a dead man is
lying, slain by a sword slash; the murderer is running away. Before this
mirror a terrified soul stands, in the grasp of a demon, who compels him
to look, and to recognise in the murderer's features his own face. To
the right of the throne, upon a tall-stemmed flat stand, such as
offerings to the gods are placed upon in the temples, a monstrous shape
appears, like a double-faced head freshly cut off, and set upright upon
the stump of the neck. The two faces are the Witnesses: the face of the
Woman (Mirume) sees all that goes on in the Shaba; the other face is the
face of a bearded man, the face of Kaguhana, who smells all odours, and
by them is aware of all that human beings do. Close to them, upon a
reading-stand, a great book is open, the record-book of deeds. And
between the Mirror and the Witnesses white shuddering souls await
Farther down I see the sufferings of souls already sentenced. One, in
lifetime a liar, is having his tongue torn out by a demon armed with
heated pincers. Other souls, flung by scores into fiery carts, are being
dragged away to torment. The carts are of iron, but resemble in form
certain hand-wagons which one sees every day being pulled and pushed
through the streets by bare-limbed Japanese labourers, chanting always
the same melancholy alternating chorus, Haidak! hei! haidah hei! But
these demon-wagoners--naked, blood-coloured, having the feet of lions
and the heads of bulls--move with their flaming wagons at a run, like
All the souls so far represented are souls of adults.
A furnace, with souls for fuel, blazing up into darkness. Demons stir
the fire with poles of iron. Down through the upper blackness other
souls are falling head downward into the flames.
Below this scene opens a shadowy landscape--a faint-blue and faint-grey
world of hills and vales, through which a river serpentines--the Sai-
no-Kawara. Thronging the banks of the pale river are ghosts of little
children, trying to pile up stones. They are very, very pretty, the
child-souls, pretty as real Japanese children are (it is astonishing how
well is child-beauty felt and expressed by the artists of Japan). Each
child has one little short white dress.
In the foreground a horrible devil with an iron club has just dashed
down and scattered a pile of stones built by one of the children. The
little ghost, seated by the ruin of its work, is crying, with both
pretty hands to its eyes. The devil appears to sneer. Other children
also are weeping near by. But, lo! Jizo comes, all light and sweetness,
with a glory moving behind him like a great full moon; and he holds out
his shakujo, his strong and holy staff, and the little ghosts catch it
and cling to it, and are drawn into the circle of his protection. And
other infants have caught his great sleeves, and one has been lifted to
the bosom of the god.
Below this Sai-no-Kawara scene appears yet another shadow-world, a
wilderness of bamboos! Only white-robed shapes of women appear in it.
They are weeping; the fingers of all are bleeding. With finger-nails
plucked out must they continue through centuries to pick the sharp-edged
Floating in glory, Dai-Nichi-Nyorai, Kwannon-Sama, Amida Buddha. Far
below them as hell from heaven surges a lake of blood, in which souls
float. The shores of this lake are precipices studded with sword-blades
thickly set as teeth in the jaws of a shark; and demons are driving
naked ghosts up the frightful slopes. But out of the crimson lake
something crystalline rises, like a beautiful, clear water-spout; the
stem of a flower,--a miraculous lotus, hearing up a soul to the feet of
a priest standing above the verge of the abyss. By virtue of his prayer
was shaped the lotus which thus lifted up and saved a sufferer.
Alas! there are no other kakemonos. There were several others: they have
No: I am happily mistaken; the priest has found, in some mysterious
recess, one more kakemono, a very large one, which he unrolls and
suspends beside the others. A vision of beauty, indeed! but what has
this to do with faith or ghosts? In the foreground a garden by the
waters of the sea, of some vast blue lake,--a garden like that at
Kanagawa, full of exquisite miniature landscape-work: cascades,
grottoes, lily-ponds, carved bridges, and trees snowy with blossom, and
dainty pavilions out-jutting over the placid azure water. Long, bright,
soft bands of clouds swim athwart the background. Beyond and above them
rises a fairy magnificence of palatial structures, roof above roof,
through an aureate haze like summer vapour: creations aerial, blue,
light as dreams. And there are guests in these gardens, lovely beings,
Japanese maidens. But they wear aureoles, star-shining: they are
For this is Paradise, the Gokuraku; and all those divine shapes are
Bosatsu. And now, looking closer, I perceive beautiful weird things
which at first escaped my notice.
They are gardening, these charming beings!--they are caressing the
lotus-buds, sprinkling their petals with something celestial, helping
them to blossom. And what lotus-buds with colours not of this world.
Some have burst open; and in their luminous hearts, in a radiance like
that of dawn, tiny naked infants are seated, each with a tiny halo.
These are Souls, new Buddhas, hotoke born into bliss. Some are very,
very small; others larger; all seem to be growing visibly, for their
lovely nurses are feeding them with something ambrosial. I see one which
has left its lotus-cradle, being conducted by a celestial Jizo toward
the higher splendours far away.
Above, in the loftiest blue, are floating tennin, angels of the Buddhist
heaven, maidens with phoenix wings. One is playing with an ivory
plectrum upon some stringed instrument, just as a dancing-girl plays her
samisen; and others are sounding those curious Chinese flutes, composed
of seventeen tubes, which are used still in sacred concerts at the great
Akira says this heaven is too much like earth. The gardens, he declares,
are like the gardens of temples, in spite of the celestial lotus-
flowers; and in the blue roofs of the celestial mansions he discovers
memories of the tea-houses of the city of Saikyo. 
Well, what after all is the heaven of any faith but ideal reiteration
and prolongation of happy experiences remembered--the dream of dead
days resurrected for us, and made eternal? And if you think this
Japanese ideal too simple, too naive, if you say there are experiences
of the material life more worthy of portrayal in a picture of heaven
than any memory of days passed in Japanese gardens and temples and tea-
houses, it is perhaps because you do not know Japan, the soft, sweet
blue of its sky, the tender colour of its waters, the gentle splendour
of its sunny days, the exquisite charm of its interiors, where the least
object appeals to one's sense of beauty with the air of something not
made, but caressed, into existence.
'Now there is a wasan of Jizo,' says Akira, taking from a shelf in the
temple alcove some much-worn, blue-covered Japanese book. 'A wasan is
what you would call a hymn or psalm. This book is two hundred years old:
it is called Saino-Kawara-kuchi-zu-sami-no-den, which is, literally,
"The Legend of the Humming of the Sai-no-Kawara." And this is the
wasan'; and he reads me the hymn of Jizo--the legend of the murmur of
the little ghosts, the legend of the humming of the Sai-no-Kawara-
rhythmically, like a song: 
'Not of this world is the story of sorrow.
The story of the Sai-no-Kawara,
At the roots of the Mountain of Shide;
Not of this world is the tale; yet 'tis most pitiful to hear.
For together in the Sai-no-Kawara are assembled
Children of tender age in multitude,
Infants but two or three years old,
Infants of four or five, infants of less than ten:
In the Sai-no-Kawara are they gathered together.
And the voice of their longing for their parents,
The voice of their crying for their mothers and their fathers--
"Chichi koishi! haha koishi!"--
Is never as the voice of the crying of children in this world,
But a crying so pitiful to hear
That the sound of it would pierce through flesh and bone.
And sorrowful indeed the task which they perform--
Gathering the stones of the bed of the river,
Therewith to heap the tower of prayers.
Saying prayers for the happiness of father, they heap the first tower;
Saying prayers for the happiness of mother, they heap the second tower;
Saying prayers for their brothers, their sisters, and all whom they
loved at home, they heap the third tower.
Such, by day, are their pitiful diversions.
But ever as the sun begins to sink below the horizon,
Then do the Oni, the demons of the hells, appear,
And say to them--"What is this that you do here?
"Lo! your parents still living in the Shaba-world
"Take no thought of pious offering or holy work
"They do nought but mourn for you from the morning unto the evening.
"Oh, how pitiful! alas! how unmerciful!
"Verily the cause of the pains that you suffer
"Is only the mourning, the lamentation of your parents."
And saying also, "Blame never us!"
The demons cast down the heaped-up towers,
They dash the stones down with their clubs of iron.
But lo! the teacher Jizo appears.
All gently he comes, and says to the weeping infants:--
"Be not afraid, dears! be never fearful!
"Poor little souls, your lives were brief indeed!
"Too soon you were forced to make the weary journey to the Meido,
"The long journey to the region of the dead!
"Trust to me! I am your father and mother in the Meido,
"Father of all children in the region of the dead."
And he folds the skirt of his shining robe about them;
So graciously takes he pity on the infants.
To those who cannot walk he stretches forth his strong shakujo;
And he pets the little ones, caresses them, takes them to his loving bosom
So graciously he takes pity on the infants.
Namu Amida Butsu!
A Pilgrimage to Enoshima
A long, straggling country village, between low wooded hills, with a
canal passing through it. Old Japanese cottages, dingy, neutral-tinted,
with roofs of thatch, very steeply sloping, above their wooden walls and
paper shoji. Green patches on all the roof-slopes, some sort of grass;
and on the very summits, on the ridges, luxurious growths of yaneshobu,
 the roof-plant, bearing pretty purple flowers. In the lukewarm air a
mingling of Japanese odours, smells of sake, smells of seaweed soup,
smells of daikon, the strong native radish; and dominating all, a sweet,
thick, heavy scent of incense,--incense from the shrines of gods.
Akira has hired two jinricksha for our pilgrimage; a speckless azure sky
arches the world; and the land lies glorified in a joy of sunshine. And
yet a sense of melancholy, of desolation unspeakable, weighs upon me as
we roll along the bank of the tiny stream, between the mouldering lines
of wretched little homes with grass growing on their roofs. For this
mouldering hamlet represents all that remains of the million-peopled
streets of Yoritomo's capital, the mighty city of the Shogunate, the
ancient seat of feudal power, whither came the envoys of Kublai Khan
demanding tribute, to lose their heads for their temerity. And only some
of the unnumbered temples of the once magnificent city now remain, saved
from the conflagrations of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries,
doubtless because built in high places, or because isolated from the
maze of burning streets by vast courts and groves. Here still dwell the
ancient gods in the great silence of their decaying temples, without
worshippers, without revenues, surrounded by desolations of rice-fields,
where the chanting of frogs replaces the sea-like murmur of the city
that was and is not.
The first great temple--En-gaku-ji--invites us to cross the canal by a
little bridge facing its outward gate--a roofed gate with fine Chinese
lines, but without carving. Passing it, we ascend a long, imposing
succession of broad steps, leading up through a magnificent grove to a
terrace, where we reach the second gate. This gate is a surprise; a
stupendous structure of two stories--with huge sweeping curves of roof
and enormous gables--antique, Chinese, magnificent. It is more than
four hundred years old, but seems scarcely affected by the wearing of
the centuries. The whole of the ponderous and complicated upper
structure is sustained upon an open-work of round, plain pillars and
cross-beams; the vast eaves are full of bird-nests; and the storm of
twittering from the roofs is like a rushing of water. Immense the work
is, and imposing in its aspect of settled power; but, in its way, it has
great severity: there are no carvings, no gargoyles, no dragons; and yet
the maze of projecting timbers below the eaves will both excite and
delude expectation, so strangely does it suggest the grotesqueries and
fantasticalities of another art. You look everywhere for the heads of
lions, elephants, dragons, and see only the four-angled ends of beams,
and feel rather astonished than disappointed. The majesty of the edifice
could not have been strengthened by any such carving.
After the gate another long series of wide steps, and more trees,
millennial, thick-shadowing, and then the terrace of the temple itself,
with two beautiful stone lanterns (toro) at its entrance. The
architecture of the temple resembles that of the gate, although on a
lesser scale. Over the doors is a tablet with Chinese characters,
signifying, 'Great, Pure, Clear, Shining Treasure.' But a heavy
framework of wooden bars closes the sanctuary, and there is no one to
let us in. Peering between the bars I see, in a sort of twilight, first
a pavement of squares of marble, then an aisle of massive wooden pillars
upholding the dim lofty roof, and at the farther end, between the
pillars, Shaka, colossal, black-visaged, gold-robed, enthroned upon a
giant lotus fully forty feet in circumference. At his right hand some
white mysterious figure stands, holding an incense-box; at his left,
another white figure is praying with clasped hands. Both are of
superhuman stature. But it is too dark within the edifice to discern who
they may be--whether disciples of the Buddha, or divinities, or figures
Beyond this temple extends an immense grove of trees--ancient cedars
and pines--with splendid bamboos thickly planted between them, rising
perpendicularly as masts to mix their plumes with the foliage of the
giants: the effect is tropical, magnificent. Through this shadowing, a
flight of broad stone steps slant up gently to some yet older shrine.
And ascending them we reach another portal, smaller than the imposing
Chinese structure through which we already passed, but wonderful, weird,
full of dragons, dragons of a form which sculptors no longer carve,
which they have even forgotten how to make, winged dragons rising from a
storm-whirl of waters or thereinto descending. The dragon upon the panel
of the left gate has her mouth closed; the jaws of the dragon on the
panel of the right gate are open and menacing. Female and male they are,
like the lions of Buddha. And the whirls of the eddying water, and the
crests of the billowing, stand out from the panel in astonishing
boldness of relief, in loops and curlings of grey wood time-seasoned to
the hardness of stone.
The little temple beyond contains no celebrated image, but a shari only,
or relic of Buddha, brought from India. And I cannot see it, having no
time to wait until the absent keeper of the shari can be found.
'Now we shall go to look at the big bell,' says Akira.
We turn to the left as we descend along a path cut between hills faced
for the height of seven or eight feet with protection-walls made green
by moss; and reach a flight of extraordinarily dilapidated steps, with
grass springing between their every joint and break--steps so worn down
and displaced by countless feet that they have become ruins, painful and
even dangerous to mount. We reach the summit, however, without mishap,
and find ourselves before a little temple, on the steps of which an old
priest awaits us, with smiling bow of welcome. We return his salutation;
but ere entering the temple turn to look at the tsurigane on the right--
the famous bell.
Under a lofty open shed, with a tilted Chinese roof, the great bell is
hung. I should judge it to be fully nine feet high, and about five feet
in diameter, with lips about eight inches thick. The shape of it is not
like that of our bells, which broaden toward the lips; this has the same
diameter through all its height, and it is covered with Buddhist texts
cut into the smooth metal of it. It is rung by means of a heavy swinging
beam, suspended from the roof by chains, and moved like a battering-ram.
There are loops of palm-fibre rope attached to this beam to pull it by;
and when you pull hard enough, so as to give it a good swing, it strikes
a moulding like a lotus-flower on the side of the bell. This it must
have done many hundred times; for the square, flat end of it, though
showing the grain of a very dense wood, has been battered into a convex
disk with ragged protruding edges, like the surface of a long-used
A priest makes a sign to me to ring the bell. I first touch the great
lips with my hand very lightly; and a musical murmur comes from them.
Then I set the beam swinging strongly; and a sound deep as thunder, rich
as the bass of a mighty organ--a sound enormous, extraordinary, yet
beautiful--rolls over the hills and away. Then swiftly follows another
and lesser and sweeter billowing of tone; then another; then an eddying
of waves of echoes. Only once was it struck, the astounding bell; yet it
continues to sob and moan for at least ten minutes!
And the age of this bell is six hundred and fifty years. 
In the little temple near by, the priest shows us a series of curious
paintings, representing the six hundredth anniversary of the casting of
the bell. (For this is a sacred bell, and the spirit of a god is
believed to dwell within it.) Otherwise the temple has little of
interest. There are some kakemono representing Iyeyasu and his
retainers; and on either side of the door, separating the inner from the
outward sanctuary, there are life-size images of Japanese warriors in
antique costume. On the altars of the inner shrine are small images,
grouped upon a miniature landscape-work of painted wood--the Jiugo-
Doji, or Fifteen Youths--the Sons of the Goddess Benten. There are
gohei before the shrine, and a mirror upon it; emblems of Shinto. The
sanctuary has changed hands in the great transfer of Buddhist temples to
the State religion.
In nearly every celebrated temple little Japanese prints are sold,
containing the history of the shrine, and its miraculous legends. I find
several such things on sale at the door of the temple, and in one of
them, ornamented with a curious engraving of the bell, I discover, with
Akira's aid, the following traditions:-
Back to Full Books