Glimpses of an Unfamiliar Japan
Part 2 out of 5
In the twelfth year of Bummei, this bell rang itself. And one who
laughed on being told of the miracle, met with misfortune; and another,
who believed, thereafter prospered, and obtained all his desires.
Now, in that time there died in the village of Tamanawa a sick man whose
name was Ono-no-Kimi; and Ono-no-Kimi descended to the region of the
dead, and went before the Judgment-Seat of Emma-O. And Emma, Judge of
Souls, said to him, 'You come too soon! The measure of life allotted you
in the Shaba-world has not yet been exhausted. Go back at once.' But
Ono-no-Kimi pleaded, saying, 'How may I go back, not knowing my way
through the darkness?' And Emma answered him, 'You can find your way
back by listening to the sound of the bell of En-gaku-ji, which is heard
in the Nan-en-budi world, going south.' And Ono-no-Kimi went south, and
heard the bell, and found his way through the darknesses, and revived in
Also in those days there appeared in many provinces a Buddhist priest of
giant stature, whom none remembered to have seen before, and whose name
no man knew, travelling through the land, and everywhere exhorting the
people to pray before the bell of En-gaku-ji. And it was at last
discovered that the giant pilgrim was the holy bell itself, transformed
by supernatural power into the form of a priest. And after these things
had happened, many prayed before the bell, and obtained their wishes.
'Oh! there is something still to see,' my guide exclaims as we reach the
great Chinese gate again; and he leads the way across the grounds by
another path to a little hill, previously hidden from view by trees. The
face of the hill, a mass of soft stone perhaps one hundred feet high, is
hollowed out into chambers, full of images. These look like burial-
caves; and the images seem funereal monuments. There are two stories of
chambers--three above, two below; and the former are connected with the
latter by a narrow interior stairway cut through the living rock. And
all around the dripping walls of these chambers on pedestals are grey
slabs, shaped exactly like the haka in Buddhist cemeteries, and
chiselled with figures of divinities in high relief. All have glory-
disks: some are nave and sincere like the work of our own mediaeval
image-makers. Several are not unfamiliar. I have seen before, in the
cemetery of Kuboyama, this kneeling woman with countless shadowy hands;
and this figure tiara-coiffed, slumbering with one knee raised, and
cheek pillowed upon the left hand--the placid and pathetic symbol of
the perpetual rest. Others, like Madonnas, hold lotus-flowers, and their
feet rest upon the coils of a serpent. I cannot see them all, for the
rock roof of one chamber has fallen in; and a sunbeam entering the ruin
reveals a host of inaccessible sculptures half buried in rubbish.
But no!--this grotto-work is not for the dead; and these are not haka,
as I imagined, but only images of the Goddess of Mercy. These chambers
are chapels; and these sculptures are the En-gaku-ji-no-hyaku-Kwannon,
'the Hundred Kwannons of En-gaku-ji.' And I see in the upper chamber
above the stairs a granite tablet in a rock-niche, chiselled with an
inscription in Sanscrit transliterated into Chinese characters,
'Adoration to the great merciful Kwan-ze-on, who looketh down above the
sound of prayer.' 
Entering the grounds of the next temple, the Temple of Ken-cho-ji,
through the 'Gate of the Forest of Contemplative Words,' and the 'Gate
of the Great Mountain of Wealth,' one might almost fancy one's self
reentering, by some queer mistake, the grounds of En-gaku-ji. For the
third gate before us, and the imposing temple beyond it, constructed
upon the same models as those of the structures previously visited, were
also the work of the same architect. Passing this third gate--colossal,
severe, superb--we come to a fountain of bronze before the temple
doors, an immense and beautiful lotus-leaf of metal, forming a broad
shallow basin kept full to the brim by a jet in its midst.
This temple also is paved with black and white square slabs, and we can
enter it with our shoes. Outside it is plain and solemn as that of En-
gaku-ji; but the interior offers a more extraordinary spectacle of faded
splendour. In lieu of the black Shaka throned against a background of
flamelets, is a colossal Jizo-Sama, with a nimbus of fire--a single
gilded circle large as a wagon-wheel, breaking into fire-tongues at
three points. He is seated upon an enormous lotus of tarnished gold--
over the lofty edge of which the skirt of his robe trails down. Behind
him, standing on ascending tiers of golden steps, are glimmering hosts
of miniature figures of him, reflections, multiplications of him, ranged
there by ranks of hundreds--the Thousand Jizo. From the ceiling above
him droop the dingy splendours of a sort of dais-work, a streaming
circle of pendants like a fringe, shimmering faintly through the webbed
dust of centuries. And the ceiling itself must once have been a marvel;
all beamed in caissons, each caisson containing, upon a gold ground, the
painted figure of a flying bird. Formerly the eight great pillars
supporting the roof were also covered with gilding; but only a few
traces of it linger still upon their worm-pierced surfaces, and about
the bases of their capitals. And there are wonderful friezes above the
doors, from which all colour has long since faded away, marvellous grey
old carvings in relief; floating figures of tennin, or heavenly spirits
playing upon flutes and biwa.
There is a chamber separated by a heavy wooden screen from the aisle on
the right; and the priest in charge of the building slides the screen
aside, and bids us enter. In this chamber is a drum elevated upon a
brazen stand,--the hugest I ever saw, fully eighteen feet in
circumference. Beside it hangs a big bell, covered with Buddhist texts.
I am sorry to learn that it is prohibited to sound the great drum. There
is nothing else to see except some dingy paper lanterns figured with the
svastika--the sacred Buddhist symbol called by the Japanese manji.
Akira tells me that in the book called Jizo-kyo-Kosui, this legend is
related of the great statue of Jizo in this same ancient temple of Ken-
Formerly there lived at Kamakura the wife of a Ronin  named Soga
Sadayoshi. She lived by feeding silkworms and gathering the silk. She
used often to visit the temple of Kencho-ji; and one very cold day that
she went there, she thought that the image of Jizo looked like one
suffering from cold; and she resolved to make a cap to keep the god's
head warm--such a cap as the people of the country wear in cold
weather. And she went home and made the cap and covered the god's head
with it, saying, 'Would I were rich enough to give thee a warm covering
for all thine august body; but, alas! I am poor, and even this which I
offer thee is unworthy of thy divine acceptance.'
Now this woman very suddenly died in the fiftieth year of her age, in
the twelfth month of the fifth year of the period called Chisho. But her
body remained warm for three days, so that her relatives would not
suffer her to be taken to the burning-ground. And on the evening of the
third day she came to life again.
Then she related that on the day of her death she had gone before the
judgment-seat of Emma, king and judge of the dead. And Emma, seeing her,
became wroth, and said to her: 'You have been a wicked woman, and have
scorned the teaching of the Buddha. All your life you have passed in
destroying the lives of silkworms by putting them into heated water. Now
you shall go to the Kwakkto-Jigoku, and there burn until your sins shall
be expiated.' Forthwith she was seized and dragged by demons to a great
pot filled with molten metal, and thrown into the pot, and she cried out
horribly. And suddenly Jizo-Sama descended into the molten metal beside
her, and the metal became like a flowing of oil and ceased to burn; and
Jizo put his arms about her and lifted her out. And he went with her
before King Emma, and asked that she should be pardoned for his sake,
forasmuch as she had become related to him by one act of goodness. So
she found pardon, and returned to the Shaba-world.
'Akira,' I ask, 'it cannot then be lawful, according to Buddhism, for
any one to wear silk?'
'Assuredly not,' replies Akira; 'and by the law of Buddha priests are
expressly forbidden to wear silk. Nevertheless.' he adds with that quiet
smile of his, in which I am beginning to discern suggestions of sarcasm,
'nearly all the priests wear silk.'
Akira also tells me this:
It is related in the seventh volume of the book Kamakurashi that there
was formerly at Kamakura a temple called Emmei-ji, in which there was
enshrined a famous statue of Jizo, called Hadaka-Jizo, or Naked Jizo.
The statue was indeed naked, but clothes were put upon it; and it stood
upright with its feet upon a chessboard. Now, when pilgrims came to the
temple and paid a certain fee, the priest of the temple would remove the
clothes of the statue; and then all could see that, though the face was
the face of Jizo, the body was the body of a woman.
Now this was the origin of the famous image of Hadaka-Jizo standing upon
the chessboard. On one occasion the great prince Taira-no-Tokyori was
playing chess with his wife in the presence of many guests. And he made
her agree, after they had played several games, that whosoever should
lose the next game would have to stand naked on the chessboard. And in
the next game they played his wife lost. And she prayed to Jizo to save
her from the shame of appearing naked. And Jizo came in answer to her
prayer and stood upon the chessboard, and disrobed himself, and changed
his body suddenly into the body of a woman.
As we travel on, the road curves and narrows between higher elevations,
and becomes more sombre. 'Oi! mat!' my Buddhist guide calls softly to
the runners; and our two vehicles halt in a band of sunshine,
descending, through an opening in the foliage of immense trees, over a
flight of ancient mossy steps. 'Here,' says my friend, 'is the temple of
the King of Death; it is called Emma-Do; and it is a temple of the Zen
sect--Zen-Oji. And it is more than seven hundred years old, and there
is a famous statue in it.'
We ascend to a small, narrow court in which the edifice stands. At the
head of the steps, to the right, is a stone tablet, very old, with
characters cut at least an inch deep into the granite of it, Chinese
characters signifying, 'This is the Temple of Emma, King.'
The temple resembles outwardly and inwardly the others we have visited,
and, like those of Shaka and of the colossal Jizo of Kamakura, has a
paved floor, so that we are not obliged to remove our shoes on entering.
Everything is worn, dim, vaguely grey; there is a pungent scent of
mouldiness; the paint has long ago peeled away from the naked wood of
the pillars. Throned to right and left against the high walls tower nine
grim figures--five on one side, four on the other--wearing strange
crowns with trumpet-shapen ornaments; figures hoary with centuries, and
so like to the icon of Emma, which I saw at Kuboyama, that I ask, 'Are
all these Emma?' 'Oh, no!' my guide answers; 'these are his attendants
only--the Jiu-O, the Ten Kings.' 'But there are only nine?' I query.
'Nine, and Emma completes the number. You have not yet seen Emma.'
Where is he? I see at the farther end of the chamber an altar elevated
upon a platform approached by wooden steps; but there is no image, only
the usual altar furniture of gilded bronze and lacquer-ware. Behind the
altar I see only a curtain about six feet square--a curtain once dark
red, now almost without any definite hue--probably veiling some alcove.
A temple guardian approaches, and invites us to ascend the platform. I
remove my shoes before mounting upon the matted surface, and follow the
guardian behind the altar, in front of the curtain. He makes me a sign
to look, and lifts the veil with a long rod. And suddenly, out of the
blackness of some mysterious profundity masked by that sombre curtain,
there glowers upon me an apparition at the sight of which I
involuntarily start back--a monstrosity exceeding all anticipation--a
A Face tremendous, menacing, frightful, dull red, as with the redness of
heated iron cooling into grey. The first shock of the vision is no doubt
partly due to the somewhat theatrical manner in which the work is
suddenly revealed out of darkness by the lifting of the curtain. But as
the surprise passes I begin to recognise the immense energy of the
conception--to look for the secret of the grim artist. The wonder of
the I creation is not in the tiger frown, nor in the violence of the
terrific mouth, nor in the fury and ghastly colour of the head as a
whole: it is in the eyes--eyes of nightmare.
Now this weird old temple has its legend.
Seven hundred years ago, 'tis said, there died the great image-maker,
the great busshi; Unke-Sosei. And Unke-Sosei signifies 'Unke who
returned from the dead.' For when he came before Emma, the Judge of
Souls, Emma said to him: 'Living, thou madest no image of me. Go back
unto earth and make one, now that thou hast looked upon me.' And Unke
found himself suddenly restored to the world of men; and they that had
known him before, astonished to see him alive again, called him Unke-
Sosei. And Unke-Sosei, bearing with him always the memory of the
countenance of Emma, wrought this image of him, which still inspires
fear in all who behold it; and he made also the images of the grim Jiu-
O, the Ten Kings obeying Emma, which sit throned about the temple.
I want to buy a picture of Emma, and make my wish known to the temple
guardian. Oh, yes, I may buy a picture of Emma, but I must first see the
Oni. I follow the guardian Out of the temple, down the mossy steps, and
across the village highway into a little Japanese cottage, where I take
my seat upon the floor. The guardian disappears behind a screen, and
presently returns dragging with him the Oni--the image of a demon,
naked, blood-red, indescribably ugly. The Oni is about three feet high.
He stands in an attitude of menace, brandishing a club. He has a head
shaped something like the head of a bulldog, with brazen eyes; and his
feet are like the feet of a lion. Very gravely the guardian turns the
grotesquery round and round, that I may admire its every aspect; while a
nave crowd collects before the open door to look at the stranger and
Then the guardian finds me a rude woodcut of Emma, with a sacred
inscription printed upon it; and as soon as I have paid for it, he
proceeds to stamp the paper, with the seal of the temple. The seal he
keeps in a wonderful lacquered box, covered with many wrappings of soft
leather. These having been removed, I inspect the seal--an oblong,
vermilion-red polished stone, with the design cut in intaglio upon it.
He moistens the surface with red ink, presses it upon the corner of the
paper bearing the grim picture, and the authenticity of my strange
purchase is established for ever.
You do not see the Dai-Butsu as you enter the grounds of his long-
vanished temple, and proceed along a paved path across stretches of
lawn; great trees hide him. But very suddenly, at a turn, he comes into
full view and you start! No matter how many photographs of the colossus
you may have already seen, this first vision of the reality is an
astonishment. Then you imagine that you are already too near, though the
image is at least a hundred yards away. As for me, I retire at once
thirty or forty yards back, to get a better view. And the jinricksha man
runs after me, laughing and gesticulating, thinking that I imagine the
image alive and am afraid of it.
But, even were that shape alive, none could be afraid of it. The
gentleness, the dreamy passionlessness of those features,--the immense
repose of the whole figure--are full of beauty and charm. And, contrary
to all expectation, the nearer you approach the giant Buddha, the
greater this charm becomes You look up into the solemnly beautiful face
-into the half-closed eyes that seem to watch you through their eyelids
of bronze as gently as those of a child; and you feel that the image
typifies all that is tender and calm in the Soul of the East. Yet you
feel also that only Japanese thought could have created it. Its beauty,
its dignity, its perfect repose, reflect the higher life of the race
that imagined it; and, though doubtless inspired by some Indian model,
as the treatment of the hair and various symbolic marks reveal, the art
So mighty and beautiful the work is, that you will not for some time
notice the magnificent lotus-plants of bronze, fully fifteen feet high,
planted before the figure, on either side of the great tripod in which
incense-rods are burning.
Through an orifice in the right side of the enormous lotus-blossom on
which the Buddha is seated, you can enter into the statue. The interior
contains a little shrine of Kwannon, and a statue of the priest Yuten,
and a stone tablet bearing in Chinese characters the sacred formula,
Namu Amida Butsu.
A ladder enables the pilgrim to ascend into the interior of the colossus
as high as the shoulders, in which are two little windows commanding a
wide prospect of the grounds; while a priest, who acts as guide, states
the age of the statue to be six hundred and thirty years, and asks for
some small contribution to aid in the erection of a new temple to
shelter it from the weather.
For this Buddha once had a temple. A tidal wave following an earthquake
swept walls and roof away, but left the mighty Amida unmoved, still
meditating upon his lotus.
And we arrive before the far-famed Kamakura temple of Kwannon--Kwannon,
who yielded up her right to the Eternal Peace that she might save the
souls of men, and renounced Nirvana to suffer with humanity for other
myriad million ages--Kwannon, the Goddess of Pity and of Mercy.
I climb three flights of steps leading to the temple, and a young girl,
seated at the threshold, rises to greet us. Then she disappears within
the temple to summon the guardian priest, a venerable man, white-robed,
who makes me a sign to enter.
The temple is large as any that I have yet seen, and, like the others,
grey with the wearing of six hundred years. From the roof there hang
down votive offerings, inscriptions, and lanterns in multitude, painted
with various pleasing colours. Almost opposite to the entrance is a
singular statue, a seated figure, of human dimensions and most human
aspect, looking upon us with small weird eyes set in a wondrously
wrinkled face. This face was originally painted flesh-tint, and the
robes of the image pale blue; but now the whole is uniformly grey with
age and dust, and its colourlessness harmonises so well with the
senility of the figure that one is almost ready to believe one's self
gazing at a living mendicant pilgrim. It is Benzuru, the same personage
whose famous image at Asakusa has been made featureless by the wearing
touch of countless pilgrim-fingers. To left and right of the entrance
are the Ni-O, enormously muscled, furious of aspect; their crimson
bodies are speckled with a white scum of paper pellets spat at them by
worshippers. Above .the altar is a small but very pleasing image of
Kwannon, with her entire figure relieved against an oblong halo of gold,
imitating the flickering of flame.
But this is not the image for which the temple is famed; there is
another to be seen upon certain conditions. The old priest presents me
with a petition, written in excellent and eloquent English, praying
visitors to contribute something to the maintenance of the temple and
its pontiff, and appealing to those of another faith to remember that
'any belief which can make men kindly and good is worthy of respect.' I
contribute my mite, and I ask to see the great Kwannon.
Then the old priest lights a lantern, and leads the way, through a low
doorway on the left of the altar, into the interior of the temple, into
some very lofty darkness. I follow him cautiously awhile, discerning
nothing whatever but the flicker of the lantern; then we halt before
something which gleams. A moment, and my eyes, becoming more accustomed
to the darkness, begin to distinguish outlines; the gleaming object
defines itself gradually as a Foot, an immense golden Foot, and I
perceive the hem of a golden robe undulating over the instep. Now the
other foot appears; the figure is certainly standing. I can perceive
that we are in a narrow but also very lofty chamber, and that out of
some mysterious blackness overhead ropes are dangling down into the
circle of lantern-light illuminating the golden feet. The priest lights
two more lanterns, and suspends them upon hooks attached to a pair of
pendent ropes about a yard apart; then he pulls up both together slowly.
More of the golden robe is revealed as the lanterns ascend, swinging on
their way; then the outlines of two mighty knees; then the curving of
columnar thighs under chiselled drapery, and, as with the still waving
ascent of the lanterns the golden Vision towers ever higher through the
gloom, expectation intensifies. There is no sound but the sound of the
invisible pulleys overhead, which squeak like bats. Now above the golden
girdle, the suggestion of a bosom. Then the glowing of a golden hand
uplifted in benediction. Then another golden hand holding a lotus. And
at last a Face, golden, smiling with eternal youth and infinite
tenderness, the face of Kwannon.
So revealed out of the consecrated darkness, this ideal of divine
feminity--creation of a forgotten art and time--is more than
impressive. I can scarcely call the emotion which it produces
admiration; it is rather reverence. But the lanterns, which paused
awhile at the level of the beautiful face, now ascend still higher, with
a fresh squeaking of pulleys. And lo! the tiara of the divinity appears
with strangest symbolism. It is a pyramid of heads, of faces-charming
faces of maidens, miniature faces of Kwannon herself.
For this is the Kwannon of the Eleven Faces--Jiu-ichimen-Kwannon.
Most sacred this statue is held; and this is its legend.
In the reign of Emperor Gensei, there lived in the province of Yamato a
Buddhist priest, Tokudo Shonin, who had been in a previous birth Hold
Bosatsu, but had been reborn among common men to save their souls. Now
at that time, in a valley in Yamato, Tokudo Shonin, walking by night,
saw a wonderful radiance; and going toward it found that it came from
the trunk of a great fallen tree, a kusunoki, or camphor-tree. A
delicious perfume came from the tree, and the shining of it was like the
shining of the moon. And by these signs Tokudo Shonin knew that the wood
was holy; and he bethought him that he should have the statue of Kwannon
carved from it. And he recited a sutra, and repeated the Nenbutsu,
praying for inspiration; and even while he prayed there came and stood
before him an aged man and an aged woman; and these said to him, 'We
know that your desire is to have the image of Kwannon-Sama carved from
this tree with the help of Heaven; continue therefore, to pray, and we
shall carve the statue.'
And Tokudo Shonin did as they bade him; and he saw them easily split the
vast trunk into two equal parts, and begin to carve each of the parts
into an image. And he saw them so labour for three days; and on the
third day the work was done--and he saw the two marvellous statues of
Kwannon made perfect before him. And he said to the strangers: 'Tell me,
I pray you, by what names you are known.' Then the old man answered: 'I
am Kasuga Myojin.' And the woman answered: 'I am called Ten-sho-ko-dai-
jin; I am the Goddess of the Sun.' And as they spoke both became
transfigured and ascended to heaven and vanished from the sight of
Tokudo Shonin. 
And the Emperor, hearing of these happenings, sent his representative to
Yamato to make offerings, and to have a temple built. Also the great
priest, Gyogi-Bosatsu, came and consecrated the images, and dedicated
the temple which by order of the Emperor was built. And one of the
statues he placed in the temple, enshrining it, and commanding it: 'Stay
thou here always to save all living creatures!' But the other statue he
cast into the sea, saying to it: 'Go thou whithersoever it is best, to
save all the living.'
Now the statue floated to Kamakura. And there arriving by night it shed
a great radiance all about it as if there were sunshine upon the sea;
and the fishermen of Kamakura were awakened by the great light; and they
went out in boats, and found the statue floating and brought it to
shore. And the Emperor ordered that a temple should be built for it, the
temple called Shin-haseidera, on the mountain called Kaiko-San, at
As we leave the temple of Kwannon behind us, there are no more dwellings
visible along the road; the green slopes to left and right become
steeper, and the shadows of the great trees deepen over us. But still,
at intervals, some flight of venerable mossy steps, a carven Buddhist
gateway, or a lofty torii, signals the presence of sanctuaries we have
no time to visit: countless crumbling shrines are all around us, dumb
witnesses to the antique splendour and vastness of the dead capital; and
everywhere, mingled with perfume of blossoms, hovers the sweet, resinous
smell of Japanese incense. Be-times we pass a scattered multitude of
sculptured stones, like segments of four-sided pillars--old haka, the
forgotten tombs of a long-abandoned cemetery; or the solitary image of
some Buddhist deity--a dreaming Amida or faintly smiling Kwannon. All
are ancient, time-discoloured, mutilated; a few have been weather-worn
into unrecognisability. I halt a moment to contemplate something
pathetic, a group of six images of the charming divinity who cares for
the ghosts of little children--the Roku-Jizo. Oh, how chipped and
scurfed and mossed they are! Five stand buried almost up to their
shoulders in a heaping of little stones, testifying to the prayers of
generations; and votive yodarekake, infant bibs of divers colours, have
been put about the necks of these for the love of children lost. But one
of the gentle god's images lies shattered and overthrown in its own
scattered pebble-pile-broken perhaps by some passing wagon.
The road slopes before us as we go, sinks down between cliffs steep as
the walls of a ca+-on, and curves. Suddenly we emerge from the cliffs,
and reach the sea. It is blue like the unclouded sky--a soft dreamy
And our path turns sharply to the right, and winds along cliff-summits
overlooking a broad beach of dun-coloured sand; and the sea wind blows
deliciously with a sweet saline scent, urging the lungs to fill
themselves to the very utmost; and far away before me, I perceive a
beautiful high green mass, an island foliage-covered, rising out of the
water about a quarter of a mile from the mainland--Enoshima, the holy
island, sacred to the goddess of the sea, the goddess of beauty. I can
already distinguish a tiny town, grey-sprinkling its steep slope.
Evidently it can be reached to-day on foot, for the tide is out, and has
left bare a long broad reach of sand, extending to it, from the opposite
village which we are approaching, like a causeway.
At Katase, the little settlement facing the island, we must leave our
jinricksha and walk; the dunes between the village and the beach are too
deep to pull the vehicle over. Scores of other jinricksha are waiting
here in the little narrow street for pilgrims who have preceded me. But
to-day, I am told, I am the only European who visits the shrine of
Our two men lead the way over the dunes, and we soon descend upon damp
As we near the island the architectural details of the little town
define delightfully through the faint sea-haze--curved bluish sweeps of
fantastic roofs, angles of airy balconies, high-peaked curious gables,
all above a fluttering of queerly shaped banners covered with mysterious
lettering. We pass the sand-flats; and the ever-open Portal of the Sea-
city, the City of the Dragon-goddess, is before us, a beautiful torii.
All of bronze it is, with shimenawa of bronze above it, and a brazen
tablet inscribed with characters declaring: 'This is the Palace of the
Goddess of Enoshima.' About the bases of the ponderous pillars are
strange designs in relievo, eddyings of waves with tortoises struggling
in the flow. This is really the gate of the city, facing the shrine of
Benten by the land approach; but it is only the third torii of the
imposing series through Katase: we did not see the others, having come
by way of the coast.
And lo! we are in Enoshima. High before us slopes the single street, a
street of broad steps, a street shadowy, full of multi-coloured flags
and dank blue drapery dashed with white fantasticalities, which are
words, fluttered by the sea wind. It is lined with taverns and miniature
shops. At every one I must pause to look; and to dare to look at
anything in Japan is to want to buy it. So I buy, and buy, and buy!
For verily 'tis the City of Mother-of-Pearl, this Enoshima. In every
shop, behind the' lettered draperies there are miracles of shell-work
for sale at absurdly small prices. The glazed cases laid flat upon the
matted platforms, the shelved cabinets set against the walls, are all
opalescent with nacreous things--extraordinary surprises, incredible
ingenuities; strings of mother-of-pearl fish, strings of mother-of-pearl
birds, all shimmering with rainbow colours. There are little kittens of
mother-of-pearl, and little foxes of mother-of-pearl, and little puppies
of mother-of-pearl, and girls' hair-combs, and cigarette-holders, and
pipes too beautiful to use. There are little tortoises, not larger than
a shilling, made of shells, that, when you touch them, however lightly,
begin to move head, legs, and tail, all at the same time, alternately
withdrawing or protruding their limbs so much like real tortoises as to
give one a shock of surprise. There are storks and birds, and beetles
and butterflies, and crabs and lobsters, made so cunningly of shells,
that only touch convinces you they are not alive. There are bees of
shell, poised on flowers of the same material--poised on wire in such a
way that they seem to buzz if moved only with the tip of a feather.
There is shell-work jewellery indescribable, things that Japanese girls
love, enchantments in mother-of-pearl, hair-pins carven in a hundred
forms, brooches, necklaces. And there are photographs of Enoshima.
This curious street ends at another torii, a wooden torii, with a
steeper flight of stone steps ascending to it. At the foot of the steps
are votive stone lamps and a little well, and a stone tank at which all
pilgrims wash their hands and rinse their mouths before approaching the
temples of the gods. And hanging beside the tank are bright blue towels,
with large white Chinese characters upon them. I ask Akira what these
'Ho-Keng is the sound of the characters in the Chinese; but in Japanese
the same characters are pronounced Kenjitatetmatsuru, and signify that
those towels are mostly humbly offered to Benten. They are what you call
votive offerings. And there are many kinds of votive offerings made to
famous shrines. Some people give towels, some give pictures, some give
vases; some offer lanterns of paper, or bronze, or stone. It is common
to promise such offerings when making petitions to the gods; and it is
usual to promise a torii. The torii may be small or great according to
the wealth of him who gives it; the very rich pilgrim may offer to the
gods a torii of metal, such as that below, which is the Gate of
'Akira, do the Japanese always keep their vows to the gods?'
Akira smiles a sweet smile, and answers: 'There was a man who promised
to build a torii of good metal if his prayers were granted. And he
obtained all that he desired. And then he built a torii with three
exceedingly small needles.'
Ascending the steps, we reach a terrace, overlooking all the city roofs.
There are Buddhist lions of stone and stone lanterns, mossed and
chipped, on either side the torii; and the background of the terrace is
the sacred hill, covered with foliage. To the left is a balustrade of
stone, old and green, surrounding a shallow pool covered with scum of
water-weed. And on the farther bank above it, out of the bushes,
protrudes a strangely shaped stone slab, poised on edge, and covered
with Chinese characters. It is a sacred stone, and is believed to have
the form of a great frog, gama; wherefore it is called Gama-ishi, the
Frog-stone. Here and there along the edge of the terrace are other
graven monuments, one of which is the offering of certain pilgrims who
visited the shrine of the sea-goddess one hundred times. On the right
other flights of steps lead to loftier terraces; and an old man, who
sits at the foot of them, making bird-cages of bamboo, offers himself as
We follow him to the next terrace, where there is a school for the
children of Enoshima, and another sacred stone, huge and shapeless:
Fuku-ishi, the Stone of Good Fortune. In old times pilgrims who rubbed
their hands upon it believed they would thereby gain riches; and the
stone is polished and worn by the touch of innumerable palms.
More steps and more green-mossed lions and lanterns, and another terrace
with a little temple in its midst, the first shrine of Benten. Before it
a few stunted palm-trees are growing. There is nothing in the shrine of
interest, only Shinto emblems. But there is another well beside it with
other votive towels, and there is another mysterious monument, a stone
shrine brought from China six hundred years ago. Perhaps it contained
some far-famed statue before this place of pilgrimage was given over to
the priests of Shinto. There is nothing in it now; the monolith slab
forming the back of it has been fractured by the falling of rocks from
the cliff above; and the inscription cut therein has been almost effaced
by some kind of scum. Akira reads 'Dai-Nippongoku-Enoshima-no-reiseki-
ken . . .'; the rest is undecipherable. He says there is a statue in the
neighbouring temple, but it is exhibited only once a year, on the
fifteenth day of the seventh month.
Leaving the court by a rising path to the left, we proceed along the
verge of a cliff overlooking the sea. Perched upon this verge are pretty
tea-houses, all widely open to the sea wind, so that, looking through
them, over their matted floors and lacquered balconies one sees the
ocean as in a picture-frame, and the pale clear horizon specked with
snowy sails, and a faint blue-peaked shape also, like a phantom island,
the far vapoury silhouette of Oshima. Then we find another torii, and
other steps leading to a terrace almost black with shade of enormous
evergreen trees, and surrounded on the sea side by another stone
balustrade, velveted with moss. On the right more steps, another torii,
another terrace; and more mossed green lions and stone lamps; and a
monument inscribed with the record of the change whereby Enoshima passed
away from Buddhism to become Shino. Beyond, in the centre of another
plateau, the second shrine of Benten.
But there is no Benten! Benten has been hidden away by Shinto hands. The
second shrine is void as the first. Nevertheless, in a building to the
left of the temple, strange relics are exhibited. Feudal armour; suits
of plate and chain-mail; helmets with visors which are demoniac masks of
iron; helmets crested with dragons of gold; two-handed swords worthy of
giants; and enormous arrows, more than five feet long, with shafts
nearly an inch in diameter. One has a crescent head about nine inches
from horn to horn, the interior edge of the crescent being sharp as a
knife. Such a missile would take off a man's head; and I can scarcely
believe Akira's assurance that such ponderous arrows were shot from a
bow by hand only. There is a specimen of the writing of Nichiren, the
great Buddhist priest--gold characters on a blue ground; and there is,
in a lacquered shrine, a gilded dragon said to have been made by that
still greater priest and writer and master-wizard, Kobodaishi.
A path shaded by overarching trees leads from this plateau to the third
shrine. We pass a torii and beyond it come to a stone monument covered
with figures of monkeys chiselled in relief. What the signification of
this monument is, even our guide cannot explain. Then another torii. It
is of wood; but I am told it replaces one of metal, stolen in the night
by thieves. Wonderful thieves! that torii must have weighed at least a
ton! More stone lanterns; then an immense count, on the very summit of
the mountain, and there, in its midst, the third and chief temple of
Benten. And before the temple is a Lange vacant space surrounded by a
fence in such manner as to render the shrine totally inaccessible.
Vanity and vexation of spirit!
There is, however, a little haiden, or place of prayer, with nothing in
it but a money-box and a bell, before the fence, and facing the temple
steps. Here the pilgrims make their offerings and pray. Only a small
raised platform covered with a Chinese roof supported upon four plain
posts, the back of the structure being closed by a lattice about breast
high. From this praying-station we can look into the temple of Beaten,
and see that Benten is not there.
But I perceive that the ceiling is arranged in caissons; and in a
central caisson I discover a very curious painting-a foreshortened
Tortoise, gazing down at me. And while I am looking at it I hear Akira
and the guide laughing; and the latter exclaims, 'Benten-Sama!'
A beautiful little damask snake is undulating up the lattice-work,
poking its head through betimes to look at us. It does not seem in the
least afraid, nor has it much reason to be, seeing that its kind are
deemed the servants and confidants of Benten. Sometimes the great
goddess herself assumes the serpent form; perhaps she has come to see
Near by is a singular stone, set on a pedestal in the court. It has the
form of the body of a tortoise, and markings like those of the
creature's shell; and it is held a sacred thing, and is called the
Tortoise-stone. But I fear exceedingly that in all this place we shall
find nothing save stones and serpents!
Now we are going to visit the Dragon cavern, not so called, Akira says,
because the Dragon of Benten ever dwelt therein, but because the shape
of the cavern is the shape of a dragon. The path descends toward the
opposite side of the island, and suddenly breaks into a flight of steps
cut out of the pale hard rock--exceedingly steep, and worn, and
slippery, and perilous--overlooking the sea. A vision of low pale
rocks, and surf bursting among them, and a toro or votive stone lamp in
the centre of them--all seen as in a bird's-eye view, over the verge of
an awful precipice. I see also deep, round holes in one of the rocks.
There used to be a tea-house below; and the wooden pillars supporting it
were fitted into those holes. I descend with caution; the Japanese
seldom slip in their straw sandals, but I can only proceed with the aid
of the guide. At almost every step I slip. Surely these steps could
never have been thus worn away by the straw sandals of pilgrims who came
to see only stones and serpents!
At last we reach a plank gallery carried along the face of the cliff
above the rocks and pools, and following it round a projection of the
cliff enter the sacred cave. The light dims as we advance; and the sea-
waves, running after us into the gloom, make a stupefying roar,
multiplied by the extraordinary echo. Looking back, I see the mouth of
the cavern like a prodigious sharply angled rent in blackness, showing a
fragment of azure sky.
We reach a shrine with no deity in it, pay a fee; and lamps being
lighted and given to each of us, we proceed to explore a series of
underground passages. So black they are that even with the light of
three lamps, I can at first see nothing. In a while, however, I can
distinguish stone figures in relief--chiselled on slabs like those I
saw in the Buddhist graveyard. These are placed at regular intervals
along the rock walls. The guide approaches his light to the face of each
one, and utters a name, 'Daikoku-Sama,' 'Fudo-Sama,' 'Kwannon-Sama.'
Sometimes in lieu of a statue there is an empty shrine only, with a
money-box before it; and these void shrines have names of Shinto gods,
'Daijingu,' 'Hachiman,' 'Inari-Sama.' All the statues are black, or seem
black in the yellow lamplight, and sparkle as if frosted. I feel as if I
were in some mortuary pit, some subterranean burial-place of dead gods.
Interminable the corridor appears; yet there is at last an end--an end
with a shrine in it--where the rocky ceiling descends so low that to
reach the shrine one must go down on hands and knees. And there is
nothing in the shrine. This is the Tail of the Dragon.
We do not return to the light at once, but enter into other lateral
black corridors--the Wings of the Dragon. More sable effigies of
dispossessed gods; more empty shrines; more stone faces covered with
saltpetre; and more money-boxes, possible only to reach by stooping,
where more offerings should be made. And there is no Benten, either of
wood or stone.
I am glad to return to the light. Here our guide strips naked, and
suddenly leaps head foremost into a black deep swirling current between
rocks. Five minutes later he reappears, and clambering out lays at my
feet a living, squirming sea-snail and an enormous shrimp. Then he
resumes his robe, and we re-ascend the mountain.
'And this,' the reader may say,--'this is all that you went forth to
see: a torii, some shells, a small damask snake, some stones?'
It is true. And nevertheless I know that I am bewitched. There is a
charm indefinable about the place--that sort of charm which comes with
a little ghostly 'thrill never to be forgotten.
Not of strange sights alone is this charm made, but of numberless subtle
sensations and ideas interwoven and inter-blended: the sweet sharp
scents of grove and sea; the blood-brightening, vivifying touch of the
free wind; the dumb appeal of ancient mystic mossy things; vague
reverence evoked by knowledge of treading soil called holy for a
thousand years; and a sense of sympathy, as a human duty, compelled by
the vision of steps of rock worn down into shapelessness by the pilgrim
feet of vanished generations.
And other memories ineffaceable: the first sight of the sea-girt City of
Pearl through a fairy veil of haze; the windy approach to the lovely
island over the velvety soundless brown stretch of sand; the weird
majesty of the giant gate of bronze; the queer, high-sloping, fantastic,
quaintly gabled street, flinging down sharp shadows of aerial balconies;
the flutter of coloured draperies in the sea wind, and of flags with
their riddles of lettering; the pearly glimmering of the astonishing
And impressions of the enormous day--the day of the Land of the Gods--
a loftier day than ever our summers know; and the glory of the view from
those green sacred silent heights between sea and sun; and the
remembrance of the sky, a sky spiritual as holiness, a sky with clouds
ghost-pure and white as the light itself--seeming, indeed, not clouds
but dreams, or souls of Bodhisattvas about to melt for ever into some
And the romance of Benten, too,--the Deity of Beauty, the Divinity of
Love, the Goddess of Eloquence. Rightly is she likewise named Goddess of
the Sea. For is not the Sea most ancient and most excellent of Speakers
-the eternal Poet, chanter of that mystic hymn whose rhythm shakes the
world, whose mighty syllables no man may learn?
We return by another route.
For a while the way winds through a long narrow winding valley between
wooded hills: the whole extent of bottom-land is occupied by rice-farms;
the air has a humid coolness, and one hears only the chanting of frogs,
like a clattering of countless castanets, as the jinricksha jolts over
the rugged elevated paths separating the flooded rice-fields.
As we skirt the foot of a wooded hill upon the right, my Japanese
comrade signals to our runners to halt, and himself dismounting, points
to the blue peaked roof of a little temple high-perched on the green
slope. 'Is it really worth while to climb up there in the sun?' I ask.
'Oh, yes!' he answers: 'it is the temple of Kishibojin--Kishibojin, the
Mother of Demons!'
We ascend a flight of broad stone steps, meet the Buddhist guardian
lions at the summit, and enter the little court in which the temple
stands. An elderly woman, with a child clinging to her robe, comes from
the adjoining building to open the screens for us; and taking off our
footgear we enter the temple. Without, the edifice looked old and dingy;
but within all is neat and pretty. The June sun, pouring through the
open shoji, illuminates an artistic confusion of brasses gracefully
shaped and multi-coloured things--images, lanterns, paintings, gilded
inscriptions, pendent scrolls. There are three altars.
Above the central altar Amida Buddha sits enthroned on his mystic golden
lotus in the attitude of the Teacher. On the altar to the right gleams a
shrine of five miniature golden steps, where little images stand in
rows, tier above tier, some seated, some erect, male and female, attired
like goddesses or like daimyo: the Sanjiubanjin, or Thirty Guardians.
Below, on the faade of the altar, is the figure of a hero slaying a
monster. On the altar to the left is the shrine of the Mother-of-Demons.
Her story is a legend of horror. For some sin committed in a previous
birth, she was born a demon, devouring her own children. But being saved
by the teaching of Buddha, she became a divine being, especially loving
and protecting infants; and Japanese mothers pray to her for their
little ones, and wives pray to her for beautiful boys.
The face of Kishibojin  is the face of a comely woman. But her eyes
are weird. In her right hand she bears a lotus-blossom; with her left
she supports in a fold of her robe, against her half-veiled breast, a
naked baby. At the foot of her shrine stands Jizo-Sama, leaning upon his
shakujo. But the altar and its images do not form the startling feature
of the temple-interior. What impresses the visitor in a totally novel
way are the votive offerings. High before the shrine, suspended from
strings stretched taut between tall poles of bamboo, are scores, no,
hundreds, of pretty, tiny dresses--Japanese baby-dresses of many
colours. Most are made of poor material, for these are the thank-
offerings of very poor simple women, poor country mothers, whose prayers
to Kishibojin for the blessing of children have been heard.
And the sight of all those little dresses, each telling so naively its
story of joy and pain--those tiny kimono shaped and sewn by docile
patient fingers of humble mothers-touches irresistibly, like some
unexpected revelation of the universal mother-love. And the tenderness
of all the simple hearts that have testified thus to faith and
thankfulness seems to thrill all about me softly, like a caress of
Outside the world appears to have suddenly grown beautiful; the light is
sweeter; it seems to me there is a new charm even in the azure of the
Then, having traversed the valley, we reach a main road so level and so
magnificently shaded by huge old trees that I could believe myself in an
English lane--a lane in Kent or Surrey, perhaps--but for some exotic
detail breaking the illusion at intervals; a torii, towering before
temple-steps descending to the highway, or a signboard lettered with
Chinese characters, or the wayside shrine of some unknown god.
All at once I observe by the roadside some unfamiliar sculptures in
relief--a row of chiselled slabs protected by a little bamboo shed; and
I dismount to look at them, supposing them to be funereal monuments.
They are so old that the lines of their sculpturing are half
obliterated; their feet are covered with moss, and their visages are
half effaced. But I can discern that these are not haka, but six images
of one divinity; and my guide knows him--Koshin, the God of Roads. So
chipped and covered with scurf he is, that the upper portion of his form
has become indefinably vague; his attributes have been worn away. But
below his feet, on several slabs, chiselled cunningly, I can still
distinguish the figures of the Three Apes, his messengers. And some
pious soul has left before one image a humble votive offering--the
picture of a black cock and a white hen, painted upon a wooden shingle.
It must have been left here very long ago; the wood has become almost
black, and the painting has been damaged by weather and by the droppings
of birds. There are no stones piled at the feet of these images, as
before the images of Jizo; they seem like things forgotten, crusted over
by the neglect of generations--archaic gods who have lost their
But my guide tells me, 'The Temple of Koshin is near, in the village of
Fujisawa.' Assuredly I must visit it.
The temple of Koshin is situated in the middle of the village, in a
court opening upon the main street. A very old wooden temple it is,
unpainted, dilapidated, grey with the greyness of all forgotten and
weather-beaten things. It is some time before the guardian of the temple
can be found, to open the doors. For this temple has doors in lieu of
shoji--old doors that moan sleepily at being turned upon their hinges.
And it is not necessary to remove one's shoes; the floor is matless,
covered with dust, and squeaks under the unaccustomed weight of entering
feet. All within is crumbling, mouldering, worn; the shrine has no
image, only Shinto emblems, some poor paper lanterns whose once bright
colours have vanished under a coating of dust, some vague inscriptions.
I see the circular frame of a metal mirror; but the mirror itself is
gone. Whither? The guardian says: 'No priest lives now in this temple;
and thieves might come in the night to steal the mirror; so we have
hidden it away.' I ask about the image of Koshin. He answers it is
exposed but once in every sixty-one years: so I cannot see it; but there
are other statues of the god in the temple court.
I go to look at them: a row of images, much like those upon the public
highway, but better preserved. One figure of Koshin, however, is
different from the others I have seen--apparently made after some
Hindoo model, judging by the Indian coiffure, mitre-shaped and lofty.
The god has three eyes; one in the centre of his forehead, opening
perpendicularly instead of horizontally. He has six arms. With one hand
he supports a monkey; with another he grasps a serpent; and the other
hands hold out symbolic things--a wheel, a sword, a rosary, a sceptre.
And serpents are coiled about his wrists and about his ankles; and under
his feet is a monstrous head, the head of a demon, Amanjako, sometimes
called Utatesa ('Sadness'). Upon the pedestal below the Three Apes are
carven; and the face of an ape appears also upon the front of the god's
I see also tablets of stone, graven only with the god's name,--votive
offerings. And near by, in a tiny wooden shrine, is the figure of the
Earth-god, Ken-ro-ji-jin, grey, primeval, vaguely wrought, holding in
one hand a spear, in the other a vessel containing something
Perhaps to uninitiated eyes these many-headed, many-handed gods at first
may seem--as they seem always in the sight of Christian bigotry--only
monstrous. But when the knowledge of their meaning comes to one who
feels the divine in all religions, then they will be found to make
appeal to the higher aestheticism, to the sense of moral beauty, with a
force never to be divined by minds knowing nothing of the Orient and its
thought. To me the image of Kwannon of the Thousand Hands is not less
admirable than any other representation of human loveliness idealised
bearing her name--the Peerless, the Majestic, the Peace-Giving, or even
White Sui-Getsu, who sails the moonlit waters in her rosy boat made of a
single lotus-petal; and in the triple-headed Shaka I discern and revere
the mighty power of that Truth, whereby, as by a conjunction of suns,
the Three Worlds have been illuminated.
But vain to seek to memorise the names and attributes of all the gods;
they seem, self-multiplying, to mock the seeker; Kwannon the Merciful is
revealed as the Hundred Kwannon; the Six Jizo become the Thousand. And
as they multiply before research, they vary and change: less multiform,
less complex, less elusive the moving of waters than the visions of this
Oriental faith. Into it, as into a fathomless sea, mythology after
mythology from India and China and the farther East has sunk and been
absorbed; and the stranger, peering into its deeps, finds himself, as in
the tale of Undine, contemplating a flood in whose every surge rises and
vanishes a Face--weird or beautiful or terrible--a most ancient shoreless
sea of forms incomprehensibly interchanging and intermingling, but
symbolising the protean magic of that infinite Unknown that shapes and
re-shapes for ever all cosmic being.
I wonder if I can buy a picture of Koshin. In most Japanese temples
little pictures of the tutelar deity are sold to pilgrims, cheap prints
on thin paper. But the temple guardian here tells me, with a gesture of
despair, that there are no pictures of Koshin for sale; there is only an
old kakemono on which the god is represented. If I would like to see it
he will go home and get it for me. I beg him to do me the favour; and he
hurries into the street.
While awaiting his return, I continue to examine the queer old statues,
with a feeling of mingled melancholy and pleasure. To have studied and
loved an ancient faith only through the labours of palaeographers and
archaeologists, and as a something astronomically remote from one's own
existence, and then suddenly in after years to find the same faith a
part of one's human environment,--to feel that its mythology, though
senescent, is alive all around you--is almost to realise the dream of
the Romantics, to have the sensation of returning through twenty
centuries into the life of a happier world. For these quaint Gods of
Roads and Gods. of Earth are really living still, though so worn and
mossed and feebly worshipped. In this brief moment, at least, I am
really in the Elder World--perhaps just at that epoch of it when the
primal faith is growing a little old-fashioned, crumbling slowly before
the corrosive influence of a new philosophy; and I know myself a pagan
still, loving these simple old gods, these gods of a people's childhood.
And they need some human love, these naive, innocent, ugly gods. The
beautiful divinities will live for ever by that sweetness of womanhood
idealised in the Buddhist art of them: eternal are Kwannon and Benten;
they need no help of man; they will compel reverence when the great
temples shall all have become voiceless and priestless as this shrine of
Koshin is. But these kind, queer, artless, mouldering gods, who have
given ease to so many troubled minds, who have gladdened so many simple
hearts, who have heard so many innocent prayers--how gladly would I
prolong their beneficent lives in spite of the so-called 'laws of
progress' and the irrefutable philosophy of evolution!
The guardian returns, bringing with him a kakemono, very small, very
dusty, and so yellow-stained by time that it might be a thousand years
old. But I am disappointed as I unroll it; there is only a very common
print of the god within--all outline. And while I am looking at it, I
become for the first time conscious that a crowd has gathered about me,
-tanned kindly-faced labourers from the fields, and mothers with their
babies on their backs, and school children, and jinricksha men, all
wondering that a stranger should be thus interested in their gods. And
although the pressure about me is very, very gentle, like a pressure of
tepid water for gentleness, I feel a little embarrassed. I give back the
old kakemono to the guardian, make my offering to the god, and take my
leave of Koshin and his good servant.
All the kind oblique eyes follow me as I go. And something like a
feeling of remorse seizes me at thus abruptly abandoning the void,
dusty, crumbling temple, with its mirrorless altar and its colourless
lanterns, and the decaying sculptures of its neglected court, and its
kindly guardian whom I see still watching my retreating steps, with the
yellow kakemono in his hand. The whistle of a locomotive warns me that I
shall just have time to catch the train. For Western civilisation has
invaded all this primitive peace, with its webs of steel, with its ways
of iron. This is not of thy roads, O Koshin!--the old gods are dying
along its ash-strewn verge!
Chapter Five At the Market of the Dead
IT is just past five o'clock in the afternoon. Through the open door of
my little study the rising breeze of evening is beginning to disturb the
papers on my desk, and the white fire of the Japanese sun is taking that
pale amber tone which tells that the heat of the day is over. There is
not a cloud in the blue--not even one of those beautiful white
filamentary things, like ghosts of silken floss, which usually swim in
this most ethereal of earthly skies even in the driest weather.
A sudden shadow at the door. Akira, the young Buddhist student, stands
at the threshold slipping his white feet out of his sandal-thongs
preparatory to entering, and smiling like the god Jizo.
'Ah! komban, Akira.'
'To-night,' says Akira, seating himself upon the floor in the posture of
Buddha upon the Lotus, 'the Bon-ichi will be held. Perhaps you would
like to see it?'
'Oh, Akira, all things in this country I should like to see. But tell
me, I pray you; unto what may the Bon-ichi be likened?'
'The Bon-ichi,' answers Akira, 'is a market at which will be sold all
things required for the Festival of the Dead; and the Festival of the
Dead will begin to-morrow, when all the altars of the temples and all
the shrines in the homes of good Buddhists will be made beautiful.'
'Then I want to see the Bon-ichi, Akira, and I should also like to see a
Buddhist shrine--a household shrine.'
'Yes, will you come to my room?' asks Akira. 'It is not far--in the
Street of the Aged Men, beyond the Street of the Stony River, and near
to the Street Everlasting. There is a butsuma there--a household shrine
-and on the way I will tell you about the Bonku.'
So, for the first time, I learn those things--which I am now about to
From the 13th to the 15th day of July is held the Festival of the Dead--
the Bommatsuri or Bonku--by some Europeans called the Feast of
Lanterns. But in many places there are two such festivals annually; for
those who still follow the ancient reckoning of time by moons hold that
the Bommatsuri should fall on the 13th, 14th, and 15th days of the
seventh month of the antique calendar, which corresponds to a later
period of the year.
Early on the morning of the 13th, new mats of purest rice straw, woven
expressly for the festival, are spread upon all Buddhist altars and
within each butsuma or butsudan--the little shrine before which the
morning and evening prayers are offered up in every believing home.
Shrines and altars are likewise decorated with beautiful embellishments
of coloured paper, and with flowers and sprigs of certain hallowed
plants--always real lotus-flowers when obtainable, otherwise lotus-
flowers of paper, and fresh branches of shikimi (anise) and of misohagi
(lespedeza). Then a tiny lacquered table--a zen-such as Japanese meals
are usually served upon, is placed upon the altar, and the food
offerings are laid on it. But in the smaller shrines of Japanese homes
the offerings are more often simply laid upon the rice matting, wrapped
in fresh lotus-leaves.
These offerings consist of the foods called somen, resembling our
vermicelli, gozen, which is boiled rice, dango, a sort of tiny dumpling,
eggplant, and fruits according to season--frequently uri and saikwa,
slices of melon and watermelon, and plums and peaches. Often sweet cakes
and dainties are added. Sometimes the offering is only O-sho-jin-gu
(honourable uncooked food); more usually it is O-rio-gu (honourable
boiled food); but it never includes, of course, fish, meats, or wine.
Clear water is given to the shadowy guest, and is sprinkled from time to
time upon the altar or within the shrine with a branch of misohagi; tea
is poured out every hour for the viewless visitors, and everything is
daintily served up in little plates and cups and bowls, as for living
guests, with hashi (chopsticks) laid beside the offering. So for three
days the dead are feasted.
At sunset, pine torches, fixed in the ground before each home, are
kindled to guide the spirit-visitors. Sometimes, also, on the first
evening of the Bommatsuri, welcome-fires (mukaebi) are lighted along the
shore of the sea or lake or river by which the village or city is
situated--neither more nor less than one hundred and eight fires; this
number having some mystic signification in the philosophy of Buddhism.
And charming lanterns are suspended each night at the entrances of homes
-the Lanterns of the Festival of the Dead--lanterns of special forms
and colours, beautifully painted with suggestions of landscape and
shapes of flowers, and always decorated with a peculiar fringe of paper
Also, on the same night, those who have dead friends go to the
cemeteries and make offerings there, and pray, and burn incense, and
pour out water for the ghosts. Flowers are placed there in the bamboo
vases set beside each haka, and lanterns are lighted and hung up before
the tombs, but these lanterns have no designs upon them.
At sunset on the evening of the 15th only the offerings called Segaki
are made in the temples. Then are fed the ghosts of the Circle of
Penance, called Gakido, the place of hungry spirits; and then also are
fed by the priests those ghosts having no other friends among the living
to care for them. Very, very small these offerings are--like the
offerings to the gods.
Now this, Akira tells me, is the origin of the Segaki, as the same is
related in the holy book Busetsuuran-bongyo:
Dai-Mokenren, the great disciple of Buddha, obtained by merit the Six
Supernatural Powers. And by virtue of them it was given him to see the
soul of his mother in the Gakido--the world of spirits doomed to suffer
hunger in expiation of faults committed in a previous life. Mokenren saw
that his mother suffered much; he grieved exceedingly because of her
pain, and he filled a bowl with choicest food and sent it to her. He saw
her try to eat; but each time that she tried to lift the food to her
lips it would change into fire and burning embers, so that she could not
eat. Then Mokenren asked the Teacher what he could do to relieve his
mother from pain. And the Teacher made answer: 'On the fifteenth day of
the seventh month, feed the ghosts of the great priests of all
countries.' And Mokenren, having done so, saw that his mother was freed
from the state of gaki, and that she was dancing for joy.  This is
the origin also of the dances called Bono-dori, which are danced on the
third night of the Festival of the Dead throughout Japan.
Upon the third and last night there is a weirdly beautiful ceremony,
more touching than that of the Segaki, stranger than the Bon-odori--the
ceremony of farewell. All that the living may do to please the dead has
been done; the time allotted by the powers of the unseen worlds unto the
ghostly visitants is well nigh past, and their friends must send them
all back again.
Everything has been prepared for them. In each home small boats made of
barley straw closely woven have been freighted with supplies of choice
food, with tiny lanterns, and written messages of faith and love. Seldom
more than two feet in length are these boats; but the dead require
little room. And the frail craft are launched on canal, lake, sea, or
river--each with a miniature lantern glowing at the prow, and incense
burning at the stern. And if the night be fair, they voyage long. Down
all the creeks and rivers and canals the phantom fleets go glimmering to
the sea; and all the sea sparkles to the horizon with the lights of the
dead, and the sea wind is fragrant with incense.
But alas! it is now forbidden in the great seaports to launch the
shoryobune, 'the boats of the blessed ghosts.'
It is so narrow, the Street of the Aged Men, that by stretching out
one's arms one can touch the figured sign-draperies before its tiny
shops on both sides at once. And these little ark-shaped houses really
seem toy-houses; that in which Akira lives is even smaller than the
rest, having no shop in it, and no miniature second story. It is all
closed up. Akira slides back the wooden amado which forms the door, and
then the paper-paned screens behind it; and the tiny structure, thus
opened, with its light unpainted woodwork and painted paper partitions,
looks something like a great bird-cage. But the rush matting of the
elevated floor is fresh, sweet-smelling, spotless; and as we take off
our footgear to mount upon it I see that all within is neat, curious,
'The woman has gone out,' says Akira, setting the smoking-box (hibachi)
in the middle of the floor, and spreading beside it a little mat for me
to squat upon.
'But what is this, Akira?' I ask, pointing to a thin board suspended by
a ribbon on the wall--a board so cut from the middle of a branch as to
leave the bark along its edges. There are two columns of mysterious
signs exquisitely painted upon it.
'Oh, that is a calendar,' answers Akira. 'On the right side are the
names of the months having thirty-one days; on the left, the names of
those having less. Now here is a household shrine.'
Occupying the alcove, which is an indispensable part of the structure of
Japanese guest-rooms, is a native cabinet painted with figures of flying
birds; and on this cabinet stands the butsuma. It is a small lacquered
and gilded shrine, with little doors modelled after those of a temple
gate--a shrine very quaint, very much dilapidated (one door has lost
its hinges), but still a dainty thing despite its crackled lacquer and
faded gilding. Akira opens it with a sort of compassionate smile; and I
look inside for the image. There is none; only a wooden tablet with a
band of white paper attached to it, bearing Japanese characters--the
name of a dead baby girl--and a vase of expiring flowers, a tiny print
of Kwannon, the Goddess of Mercy, and a cup filled with ashes of
'Tomorrow,' Akira says, 'she will decorate this, and make the offerings
of food to the little one.'
Hanging from the ceiling, on the opposite side of the room, and in front
of the shrine, is a wonderful, charming, funny, white-and-rosy mask--
the face of a laughing, chubby girl with two mysterious spots upon her
forehead, the face of Otafuku.  It twirls round and round in the
soft air-current coming through the open shoji; and every time those
funny black eyes, half shut with laughter, look at me, I cannot help
smiling. And hanging still higher, I see little Shinto emblems of paper
(gohei), a miniature mitre-shaped cap in likeness of those worn in the
sacred dances, a pasteboard emblem of the magic gem (Nio-i hojiu) which
the gods bear in their hands, a small Japanese doll, and a little wind-
wheel which will spin around with the least puff of air, and other
indescribable toys, mostly symbolic, such as are sold on festal days in
the courts of the temples--the playthings of the dead child.
'Komban!' exclaims a very gentle voice behind us. The mother is standing
there, smiling as if pleased at the stranger's interest in her butsuma--
a middle-aged woman of the poorest class, not comely, but with a most
kindly face. We return her evening greeting; and while I sit down upon
the little mat laid before the hibachi, Akira whispers something to her,
with the result that a small kettle is at once set to boil over a very
small charcoal furnace. We are probably going to have some tea.
As Akira takes his seat before me, on the other side of the hibachi, I
'What was the name I saw on the tablet?'
'The name which you saw,' he answers, 'was not the real name. The real
name is written upon the other side. After death another name is given
by the priest. A dead boy is called Ryochi Doji; a dead girl, Mioyo
While we are speaking, the woman approaches the little shrine, opens it,
arranges the objects in it, lights the tiny lamp, and with joined hands
and bowed head begins to pray. Totally unembarrassed by our presence and
our chatter she seems, as one accustomed to do what is right and
beautiful heedless of human opinion; praying with that brave, true
frankness which belongs to the poor only of this world--those simple
souls who never have any secret to hide, either from each other or from
heaven, and of whom Ruskin nobly said, 'These are our holiest.' I do
not know what words her heart is murmuring: I hear only at moments that
soft sibilant sound, made by gently drawing the breath through the lips,
which among this kind people is a token of humblest desire to please.
As I watch the tender little rite, I become aware of something dimly
astir in the mystery of my own life--vaguely, indefinably familiar,
like a memory ancestral, like the revival of a sensation forgotten two
thousand years. Blended in some strange way it seems to be with my faint
knowledge of an elder world, whose household gods were also the beloved
dead; and there is a weird sweetness in this place, like a shadowing of
Then, her brief prayer over, she turns to her miniature furnace again.
She talks and laughs with Akira; she prepares the tea, pours it out in
tiny cups and serves it to us, kneeling in that graceful attitude--
picturesque, traditional--which for six hundred years has been the
attitude of the Japanese woman serving tea. Verily, no small part of the
life of the woman of Japan is spent thus in serving little cups of tea.
Even as a ghost, she appears in popular prints offering to somebody
spectral tea-cups of spectral tea. Of all Japanese ghost-pictures, I
know of none more pathetic than that in which the phantom of a woman
kneeling humbly offers to her haunted and remorseful murderer a little
cup of tea!
'Now let us go to the Bon-ichi,' says Akira, rising; 'she must go there
herself soon, and it is already getting dark. Sayonara!'
It is indeed almost dark as we leave the little house: stars are
pointing in the strip of sky above the street; but it is a beautiful
night for a walk, with a tepid breeze blowing at intervals, and sending
long flutterings through the miles of shop draperies. The market is in
the narrow street at the verge of the city, just below the hill where
the great Buddhist temple of Zoto-Kuin stands--in the Motomachi, only
ten squares away.
The curious narrow street is one long blaze of lights--lights of
lantern signs, lights of torches and lamps illuminating unfamiliar rows
of little stands and booths set out in the thoroughfare before all the
shop-fronts on each side; making two far-converging lines of multi-
coloured fire. Between these moves a dense throng, filling the night
with a clatter of geta that drowns even the tide-like murmuring of
voices and the cries of the merchant. But how gentle the movement!-
there is no jostling, no rudeness; everybody, even the weakest and
smallest, has a chance to see everything; and there are many things to
'Hasu-no-hana!--hasu-no-hana!' Here are the venders of lotus-flowers
for the tombs and the altars, of lotus leaves in which to wrap the food
of the beloved ghosts. The leaves, folded into bundles, are heaped upon
tiny tables; the lotus-flowers, buds and blossoms intermingled, are
fixed upright in immense bunches, supported by light frames of bamboo.
'Ogara!--ogara-ya! White sheaves of long peeled rods. These are hemp-
sticks. The thinner ends can be broken up into hashi for the use of the
ghosts; the rest must be consumed in the mukaebi. Rightly all these
sticks should be made of pine; but pine is too scarce and dear for the
poor folk of this district, so the ogara are substituted.
'Kawarake!--kawarake-ya!' The dishes of the ghosts: small red shallow
platters of unglazed earthenware; primeval pottery suku-makemasu!' Eh!
what is all this? A little booth shaped like a sentry-box, all made of
laths, covered with a red-and-white chess pattern of paper; and out of
this frail structure issues a shrilling keen as the sound of leaking
steam. 'Oh, that is only insects,' says Akira, laughing; 'nothing to do
with the Bonku.' Insects, yes!--in cages! The shrilling is made by
scores of huge green crickets, each prisoned in a tiny bamboo cage by
itself. 'They are fed with eggplant and melon rind,' continues Akira,
'and sold to children to play with.' And there are also beautiful little
cages full of fireflies--cages covered with brown mosquito-netting,
upon each of which some simple but very pretty design in bright colours
has been dashed by a Japanese brush. One cricket and cage, two cents.
Fifteen fireflies and cage, five cents.
Here on a street corner squats a blue-robed boy behind a low wooden
table, selling wooden boxes about as big as match-boxes, with red paper
hinges. Beside the piles of these little boxes on the table are shallow
dishes filled with clear water, in which extraordinary thin flat shapes
are floating--shapes of flowers, trees, birds, boats, men, and women.
Open a box; it costs only two cents. Inside, wrapped in tissue paper,
are bundles of little pale sticks, like round match-sticks, with pink
ends. Drop one into the water, it instantly unrolls and expands into the
likeness of a lotus-flower. Another transforms itself into a fish. A
third becomes a boat. A fourth changes to an owl. A fifth becomes a tea-
plant, covered with leaves and blossoms. . . . So delicate are these
things that, once immersed, you cannot handle them without breaking
them. They are made of seaweed.
'Tsukuri hana!--tsukuri-hana-wa-irimasenka?' The sellers of artificial
flowers, marvellous chrysanthemums and lotus-plants of paper, imitations
of bud and leaf and flower so cunningly wrought that the eye alone
cannot detect the beautiful trickery. It is only right that these should
cost much more than their living counterparts.
High above the thronging and the clamour and the myriad fires of the
merchants, the great Shingon temple at the end of the radiant street
towers upon its hill against the starry night, weirdly, like a dream--
strangely illuminated by rows of paper lanterns hung all along its
curving eaves; and the flowing of the crowd bears me thither. Out of the
broad entrance, over a dark gliding mass which I know to be heads and
shoulders of crowding worshippers, beams a broad band of yellow light;
and before reaching the lion-guarded steps I hear the continuous
clanging of the temple gong, each clang the signal of an offering and a
prayer. Doubtless a cataract of cash is pouring into the great alms-
chest; for to-night is the Festival of Yakushi-Nyorai, the Physician of
Souls. Borne to the steps at last, I find myself able to halt a moment,
despite the pressure of the throng, before the stand of a lantern-seller
selling the most beautiful lanterns that I have ever seen. Each is a
gigantic lotus-flower of paper, so perfectly made in every detail as to
seem a great living blossom freshly plucked; the petals are crimson at
their bases, paling to white at their tips; the calyx is a faultless
mimicry of nature, and beneath it hangs a beautiful fringe of paper
cuttings, coloured with the colours of the flower, green below the
calyx, white in the middle, crimson at the ends. In the heart of the
blossom is set a microscopic oil-lamp of baked clay; and this being
lighted, all the flower becomes luminous, diaphanous--a lotus of white
and crimson fire. There is a slender gilded wooden hoop by which to hang
it up, and the price is four cents! How can people afford to make such
things for four cents, even in this country of astounding cheapness?
Akira is trying to tell me something about the hyaku-hachino-mukaebi,
the Hundred and Eight Fires, to be lighted to-morrow evening, which bear
some figurative relation unto the Hundred and Eight Foolish Desires; but
I cannot hear him for the clatter of the geta and the komageta, the
wooden clogs and wooden sandals of the worshippers ascending to the
shrine of Yakushi-Nyorai. The light straw sandals of the poorer men, the
zori and the waraji, are silent; the great clatter is really made by the
delicate feet of women and girls, balancing themselves carefully upon
their noisy geta. And most of these little feet are clad with spotless
tabi, white as a white lotus. White feet of little blue-robed mothers
they mostly are--mothers climbing patiently and smilingly, with pretty
placid babies at their backs, up the hill to Buddha.
And while through the tinted lantern light I wander on with the gentle
noisy people, up the great steps of stone, between other displays of
lotus-blossoms, between other high hedgerows of paper flowers, my
thought suddenly goes back to the little broken shrine in the poor
woman's room, with the humble playthings hanging before it, and the
laughing, twirling mask of Otafuku. I see the happy, funny little eyes,
oblique and silky-shadowed like Otafuku's own, which used to look at
those toys,--toys in which the fresh child-senses found a charm that I
can but faintly divine, a delight hereditary, ancestral. I see the
tender little creature being borne, as it was doubtless borne many
times, through just such a peaceful throng as this, in just such a
lukewarm, luminous night, peeping over the mother's shoulder, softly
clinging at her neck with tiny hands.
Somewhere among this multitude she is--the mother. She will feel again
to-night the faint touch of little hands, yet will not turn her head to
look and laugh, as in other days.
Over the mountains to Izumo, the land of the Kamiyo,  the land of the
Ancient Gods. A journey of four days by kuruma, with strong runners,
from the Pacific to the Sea of Japan; for we have taken the longest and
least frequented route.
Through valleys most of this long route lies, valleys always open to
higher valleys, while the road ascends, valleys between mountains with
rice-fields ascending their slopes by successions of diked terraces
which look like enormous green flights of steps. Above them are
shadowing sombre forests of cedar and pine; and above these wooded
summits loom indigo shapes of farther hills overtopped by peaked
silhouettes of vapoury grey. The air is lukewarm and windless; and
distances are gauzed by delicate mists; and in this tenderest of blue
skies, this Japanese sky which always seems to me loftier than any other
sky which I ever saw, there are only, day after day, some few filmy,
spectral, diaphanous white wandering things: like ghosts of clouds,
riding on the wind.
But sometimes, as the road ascends, the rice-.fields disappear a while:
fields of barley and of indigo, and of rye and of cotton, fringe the
route for a little space; and then it plunges into forest shadows. Above
all else, the forests of cedar sometimes bordering the way are
astonishments; never outside of the tropics did I see any growths
comparable for density and perpendicularity with these. Every trunk is
straight and bare as a pillar: the whole front presents the spectacle of
an immeasurable massing of pallid columns towering up into a cloud of
sombre foliage so dense that one can distinguish nothing overhead but
branchings lost in shadow. And the profundities beyond the rare gaps in
the palisade of blanched trunks are night-black, as in Dore's pictures
of fir woods.
No more great towns; only thatched villages nestling in the folds of the
hills, each with its Buddhist temple, lifting a tilted roof of blue-grey
tiles above the congregation of thatched homesteads, and its miya, or
Shinto shrine, with a torii before it like a great ideograph shaped in
stone or wood. But Buddhism still dominates; every hilltop has its tera;
and the statues of Buddhas or of Bodhisattvas appear by the roadside, as
we travel on, with the regularity of milestones. Often a village tera is
so large that the cottages of the rustic folk about it seem like little
out-houses; and the traveller wonders how so costly an edifice of prayer
can be supported by a community so humble. And everywhere the signs of
the gentle faith appear: its ideographs and symbols are chiselled upon
the faces of the rocks; its icons smile upon you from every shadowy
recess by the way; even the very landscape betimes would seem to have
been moulded by the soul of it, where hills rise softly as a prayer. And
the summits of some are domed like the head of Shaka, and the dark bossy
frondage that clothes them might seem the clustering of his curls.
But gradually, with the passing of the days, as we journey into the
loftier west, I see fewer and fewer tera. Such Buddhist temples as we
pass appear small and poor; and the wayside images become rarer and
rarer. But the symbols of Shinto are more numerous, and the structure of
its miya larger and loftier. And the torii are visible everywhere, and
tower higher, before the approaches to villages, before the entrances of
courts guarded by strangely grotesque lions and foxes of stone, and
before stairways of old mossed rock, upsloping, between dense growths of
ancient cedar and pine, to shrines that moulder in the twilight of holy
At one little village I see, just beyond, the torii leading to a great
Shinto temple, a particularly odd small shrine, and feel impelled by
curiosity to examine it. Leaning against its closed doors are many short
gnarled sticks in a row, miniature clubs. Irreverently removing these,
and opening the little doors, Akira bids me look within. I see only a
mask--the mask of a goblin, a Tengu, grotesque beyond description,
with an enormous nose--so grotesque that I feel remorse for having
looked at it.
The sticks are votive offerings. By dedicating one to the shrine, it is
believed that the Tengu may be induced to drive one's enemies away.
Goblin-shaped though they appear in all Japanese paintings and carvings
of them, the Tengu-Sama are divinities, lesser divinities, lords of the
art of fencing and the use of all weapons.
And other changes gradually become manifest. Akira complains that he can
no longer understand the language of the people. We are traversing
regions of dialects. The houses are also architecturally different from
those of the country-folk of the north-east; their high thatched roofs
are curiously decorated with bundles of straw fastened to a pole of
bamboo parallel with the roof-ridge, and elevated about a foot above it.
The complexion of the peasantry is darker than in the north-east; and I
see no more of those charming rosy faces one observes among the women of
the Tokyo districts. And the peasants wear different hats, hats pointed
like the straw roofs of those little wayside temples curiously enough
called an (which means a straw hat).
The weather is more than warm, rendering clothing oppressive; and as we
pass through the little villages along the road, I see much healthy
cleanly nudity: pretty naked children; brown men and boys with only a
soft narrow white cloth about their loins, asleep on the matted floors,
all the paper screens of the houses having been removed to admit the
breeze. The men seem to be lightly and supply built; but I see no
saliency of muscles; the lines of the figure are always smooth. Before
almost every dwelling, indigo, spread out upon little mats of rice
straw, may be seen drying in the sun.
The country-folk gaze wonderingly at the foreigner. At various places
where we halt, old men approach to touch my clothes, apologising with
humble bows and winning smiles for their very natural curiosity, and
asking my interpreter all sorts of odd questions. Gentler and kindlier
faces I never beheld; and they reflect the souls behind them; never yet
have I heard a voice raised in anger, nor observed an unkindly act.
And each day, as we travel, the country becomes more beautiful--
beautiful with that fantasticality of landscape only to be found in
volcanic lands. But for the dark forests of cedar and pine, and this far
faint dreamy sky, and the soft whiteness of the light, there are moments
of our journey when I could fancy myself again in the West Indies,
ascending some winding way over the mornes of Dominica or of Martinique.
And, indeed, I find myself sometimes looking against the horizon glow
for shapes of palms and ceibas. But the brighter green of the valleys
and of the mountain-slopes beneath the woods is not the green of young
cane, but of rice-fields--thousands upon thousands of tiny rice-fields
no larger than cottage gardens, separated from each other by narrow
In the very heart of a mountain range, while rolling along the verge of
a precipice above rice-fields, I catch sight of a little shrine in a
cavity of the cliff overhanging the way, and halt to examine it. The
sides and sloping roof of the shrine are formed by slabs of unhewn rock.
Within smiles a rudely chiselled image of Bato-Kwannon--Kwannon-with-
the-Horse's-Head--and before it bunches of wild flowers have been
placed, and an earthen incense-cup, and scattered offerings of dry rice.
Contrary to the idea suggested by the strange name, this form of Kwannon
is not horse-headed; but the head of a horse is sculptured upon the
tiara worn by the divinity. And the symbolism is fully explained by a
large wooden sotoba planted beside the shrine, and bearing, among other
inscriptions, the words, 'Bato Kwan-ze-on Bosatsu, giu ba bodai han ye.'
For Bato-Kwannon protects the horses and the cattle of the peasant; and
he prays her not only that his dumb servants may be preserved from
sickness, but also that their spirits may enter after death, into a
happier state of existence. Near the sotoba there has been erected a
wooden framework about four feet square, filled with little tablets of
pine set edge to edge so as to form one smooth surface; and on these are
written, in rows of hundreds, the names of all who subscribed for the
statue and its shrine. The number announced is ten thousand. But the
whole cost could not have exceeded ten Japanese dollars (yen); wherefore
I surmise that each subscriber gave not more than one rin--one tenth
of one sen, or cent. For the hyakusho are unspeakably poor. 
In the midst of these mountain solitudes, the discovery of that little
shrine creates a delightful sense of security. Surely nothing save
goodness can be expected from a people gentle-hearted enough to pray for
the souls of their horses and cows. 
As we proceed rapidly down a slope, my kurumaya swerves to one side with
a suddenness that gives me a violent start, for the road overlooks a
sheer depth of several hundred feet. It is merely to avoid hurting a
harmless snake making its way across the path. The snake is so little
afraid that on reaching the edge of the road it turns its head to look
And now strange signs begin to appear in all these rice-fields: I see
everywhere, sticking up above the ripening grain, objects like white-
feathered arrows. Arrows of prayer! I take one up to examine it. The
shaft is a thin bamboo, split down for about one-third of its length;
into the slit a strip of strong white paper with ideographs upon it--an
ofuda, a Shinto charm--is inserted; and the separated ends of the cane
are then rejoined and tied together just above it. The whole, at a
little distance, has exactly the appearance of a long, light, well-
feathered arrow. That which I first examine bears the words, 'Yu-Asaki-
]inja-kozen-son-chu-an-zen' (From the God whose shrine is before the
Village of Peace). Another reads, 'Mihojinja-sho-gwan-jo-ju-go-kito-
shugo,' signifying that the Deity of the temple Miho-jinja granteth
fully every supplication made unto him. Everywhere, as we proceed, I see
the white arrows of prayer glimmering above the green level of the
grain; and always they become more numerous. Far as the eye can reach
the fields are sprinkled with them, so that they make upon the verdant
surface a white speckling as of flowers.
Sometimes, also, around a little rice-field, I see a sort of magical
fence, formed by little bamboo rods supporting a long cord from which
long straws hang down, like a fringe, and paper cuttings, which are
symbols (gohei) are suspended at regular intervals. This is the
shimenawa, sacred emblem of Shinto. Within the consecrated space
inclosed by it no blight may enter--no scorching sun wither the young
shoots. And where the white arrows glimmer the locust shall not prevail,
nor shall hungry birds do evil.
But now I look in vain for the Buddhas. No more great tera, no Shaka, no
Amida, no Dai-Nichi-Nyorai; even the Bosatsu have been left behind.
Kwannon and her holy kin have disappeared; Koshin, Lord of Roads, is
indeed yet with us; but he has changed his name and become a Shinto
deity: he is now Saruda-hiko-no-mikoto; and his presence is revealed
only by the statues of the Three Mystic Apes which are his servants-
Mizaru, who sees no evil, covering his eyes with his hands, Kikazaru,
who hears no evil, covering his ears with his hands. Iwazaru, who speaks
no evil, covering his mouth with his hands.
Yet no! one Bosatsu survives in this atmosphere of magical Shinto: still
by the roadside I see at long intervals the image of Jizo-Sama, the
charming playfellow of dead children. But Jizo also is a little changed;
even in his sextuple representation,  the Roku-Jizo, he appears not
standing, but seated upon his lotus-flower, and I see no stones piled up
before him, as in the eastern provinces.
At last, from the verge of an enormous ridge, the roadway suddenly
slopes down into a vista of high peaked roofs of thatch and green-mossed
eaves--into a village like a coloured print out of old Hiroshige's
picture-books, a village with all its tints and colours precisely like
the tints and colours of the landscape in which it lies. This is Kami-
Ichi, in the land of Hoki.
We halt before a quiet, dingy little inn, whose host, a very aged man,
comes forth to salute me; while a silent, gentle crowd of villagers,
mostly children and women, gather about the kuruma to see the stranger,
to wonder at him, even to touch his clothes with timid smiling
curiosity. One glance at the face of the old innkeeper decides me to
accept his invitation. I must remain here until to-morrow: my runners
are too wearied to go farther to-night.
Weather-worn as the little inn seemed without, it is delightful within.
Its polished stairway and balconies are speckless, reflecting like
mirror-surfaces the bare feet of the maid-servants; its luminous rooms
are fresh and sweet-smelling as when their soft mattings were first laid
down. The carven pillars of the alcove (toko) in my chamber, leaves and
flowers chiselled in some black rich wood, are wonders; and the kakemono
or scroll-picture hanging there is an idyll, Hotei, God of Happiness,
drifting in a bark down some shadowy stream into evening mysteries of
vapoury purple. Far as this hamlet is from all art-centres, there is no
object visible in the house which does not reveal the Japanese sense of
beauty in form. The old gold-flowered lacquer-ware, the astonishing box
in which sweetmeats (kwashi) are kept, the diaphanous porcelain wine-
cups dashed with a single tiny gold figure of a leaping shrimp, the tea-
cup holders which are curled lotus-leaves of bronze, even the iron
kettle with its figurings of dragons and clouds, and the brazen hibachi
whose handles are heads of Buddhist lions, delight the eye and surprise
the fancy. Indeed, wherever to-day in Japan one sees something totally
uninteresting in porcelain or metal, something commonplace and ugly, one
may be almost sure that detestable something has been shaped under
foreign influence. But here I am in ancient Japan; probably no European
eyes ever looked upon these things before.
A window shaped like a heart peeps out upon the garden, a wonderful
little garden with a tiny pond and miniature bridges and dwarf trees,
like the landscape of a tea-cup; also some shapely stones of course, and
some graceful stone-lanterns, or toro, such as are placed in the courts
of temples. And beyond these, through the warm dusk, I see lights,
coloured lights, the lanterns of the Bonku, suspended before each home
to welcome the coming of beloved ghosts; for by the antique calendar,
according to which in this antique place the reckoning of time is still
made, this is the first night of the Festival of the Dead.
As in all the other little country villages where I have been stopping,
I find the people here kind to me with a kindness and a courtesy
unimaginable, indescribable, unknown in any other country, and even in
Japan itself only in the interior. Their simple politeness is not an
art; their goodness is absolutely unconscious goodness; both come
straight from the heart. And before I have been two hours among these
people, their treatment of me, coupled with the sense of my utter
inability to repay such kindness, causes a wicked wish to come into my
mind. I wish these charming folk would do me some unexpected wrong,
something surprisingly evil, something atrociously unkind, so that I
should not be obliged to regret them, which I feel sure I must begin to
do as soon as I go away.
While the aged landlord conducts me to the bath, where he insists upon
washing me himself as if I were a child, the wife prepares for us a
charming little repast of rice, eggs, vegetables, and sweetmeats. She is
painfully in doubt about her ability to please me, even after I have
eaten enough for two men, and apologises too much for not being able to
offer me more.
There is no fish,' she says, 'for to-day is the first day of the Bonku,
the Festival of the Dead; being the thirteenth day of the month. On the
thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth of the month nobody may eat fish.
But on the morning of the sixteenth day, the fishermen go out to catch
fish; and everybody who has both parents living may eat of it. But if
one has lost one's father or mother then one must not eat fish, even
upon the sixteenth day.'
While the good soul is thus explaining I become aware of a strange
remote sound from without, a sound I recognise through memory of
tropical dances, a measured clapping of hands. But this clapping is very
soft and at long intervals. And at still longer intervals there comes to
us a heavy muffled booming, the tap of a great drum, a temple drum.
'Oh! we must go to see it,' cries Akira; 'it is the Bon-odori, the Dance
of the Festival of the Dead. And you will see the Bon-odori danced here
as it is never danced in cities--the Bon-odori of ancient days. For
customs have not changed here; but in the cities all is changed.'
So I hasten out, wearing only, like the people about me, one of those
light wide-sleeved summer robes--yukata--which are furnished to male
guests at all Japanese hotels; but the air is so warm that even thus
lightly clad, I find myself slightly perspiring. And the night is divine
-still, clear, vaster than nights of Europe, with a big white moon
flinging down queer shadows of tilted eaves and horned gables and
delightful silhouettes of robed Japanese. A little boy, the grandson of
our host, leads the way with a crimson paper lantern; and the sonorous
echoing of geta, the koro-koro of wooden sandals, fills all the street,
for many are going whither we are going, to see the dance.
A little while we proceed along the main street; then, traversing a
narrow passage between two houses, we find ourselves in a great open
space flooded by moonlight. This is the dancing-place; but the dance has
ceased for a time. Looking about me, I perceive that we are in the court
of an ancient Buddhist temple. The temple building itself remains
intact, a low long peaked silhouette against the starlight; but it is
void and dark and unhallowed now; it has been turned, they tell me, into
a schoolhouse. The priests are gone; the great bell is gone; the Buddhas
and the Bodhisattvas have vanished, all save one--a broken-handed Jizo
of stone, smiling with eyelids closed, under the moon.
In the centre of the court is a framework of bamboo supporting a great
drum; and about it benches have been arranged, benches from the
schoolhouse, on which villagers are resting. There is a hum of voices,
voices of people speaking very low, as if expecting something solemn;
and cries of children betimes, and soft laughter of girls. And far
behind the court, beyond a low hedge of sombre evergreen shrubs, I see
soft white lights and a host of tall grey shapes throwing long shadows;
and I know that the lights are the white lanterns of the dead (those
hung in cemeteries only), and that the grey shapes are shapes of tombs.
Suddenly a girl rises from her seat, and taps the huge drum once. It is
the signal for the Dance of Souls.
Out of the shadow of the temple a processional line of dancers files
into the moonlight and as suddenly halts--all young women or girls,
clad in their choicest attire; the tallest leads; her comrades follow in
order of stature; little maids of ten or twelve years compose the end of
the procession. Figures lightly poised as birds--figures that somehow
recall the dreams of shapes circling about certain antique vases; those
charming Japanese robes, close-clinging about the knees, might seem, but
for the great fantastic drooping sleeves, and the curious broad girdles
confining them, designed after the drawing of some Greek or Etruscan
artist. And, at another tap of the drum, there begins a performance
impossible to picture in words, something unimaginable, phantasmal--a
dance, an astonishment.
All together glide the right foot forward one pace, without lifting the
sandal from the ground, and extend both hands to the right, with a
strange floating motion and a smiling, mysterious obeisance. Then the
right foot is drawn back, with a repetition of the waving of hands and
the mysterious bow. Then all advance the left foot and repeat the
previous movements, half-turning to the left. Then all take two gliding
paces forward, with a single simultaneous soft clap of the hands, and
the first performance is reiterated, alternately to right and left; all
the sandalled feet gliding together, all the supple hands waving
together, all the pliant bodies bowing and swaying together. And so
slowly, weirdly, the processional movement changes into a great round,
circling about the moonlit court and around the voiceless crowd of
And always the white hands sinuously wave together, as if weaving
spells, alternately without and within the round, now with palms upward,
now with palms downward; and all the elfish sleeves hover duskily
together, with a shadowing as of wings; and all the feet poise together
with such a rhythm of complex motion, that, in watching it, one feels a
sensation of hypnotism--as while striving to watch a flowing and
shimmering of water.
And this soporous allurement is intensified by a dead hush. No one
speaks, not even a spectator. And, in the long intervals between the
soft clapping of hands, one hears only the shrilling of the crickets in
the trees, and the shu-shu of sandals, lightly stirring the dust. Unto
what, I ask myself, may this be likened? Unto nothing; yet it suggests
some fancy of somnambulism--dreamers, who dream themselves flying,
dreaming upon their feet.
And there comes to me the thought that I am looking at something
immemorially old, something belonging to the unrecorded beginnings of
this Oriental life, perhaps to the crepuscular Kamiyo itself, to the
magical Age of the Gods; a symbolism of motion whereof the meaning has
been forgotten for innumerable years. Yet more and more unreal the
spectacle appears, with its silent smilings, with its silent bowings, as
if obeisance to watchers invisible; and I find myself wondering whether,
were I to utter but a whisper, all would not vanish for ever save the
grey mouldering court and the desolate temple, and the broken statue of
Jizo, smiling always the same mysterious smile I see upon the faces of
Under the wheeling moon, in the midst of the round, I feel as one within
the circle of a charm. And verily this is enchantment; I am bewitched,
bewitched by the ghostly weaving of hands, by the rhythmic gliding of
feet, above all by the flitting of the marvellous sleeves--
apparitional, soundless, velvety as a flitting of great tropical bats.
No; nothing I ever dreamed of could be likened to this. And with the
consciousness of the ancient hakaba behind me, and the weird invitation
of its lanterns, and the ghostly beliefs of the hour and the place there
creeps upon me a nameless, tingling sense of being haunted. But no!
these gracious, silent, waving, weaving shapes are not of the Shadowy
Folk, for whose coming the white fires were kindled: a strain of song,
full of sweet, clear quavering, like the call of a bird, gushes from
some girlish mouth, and fifty soft voices join the chant:
Sorota soroimashita odorikoga sorota, Soroikite, kita hare yukata.
'Uniform to view [as ears of young rice ripening in the field] all clad
alike in summer festal robes, the company of dancers have assembled.'
Again only the shrilling of the crickets, the shu-shu of feet, the
gentle clapping; and the wavering hovering measure proceeds in silence,
with mesmeric lentor--with a strange grace, which, by its very navetU,
seems old as the encircling hills.
Those who sleep the sleep of centuries out there, under the grey stones
where the white lanterns are, and their fathers, and the fathers of
their fathers' fathers, and the unknown generations behind them, buried
in cemeteries of which the place has been forgotten for a thousand
years, doubtless looked upon a scene like this. Nay! the dust stirred by
those young feet was human life, and so smiled and so sang under this
self-same moon, 'with woven paces, and with waving hands.'
Suddenly a deep male chant breaks the hush. Two giants have joined the
round, and now lead it, two superb young mountain peasants nearly nude,
towering head and shoulders above the whole of the assembly. Their
kimono are rolled about their waistilike girdles, leaving their bronzed
limbs and torsos naked to the warm air; they wear nothing else save
their immense straw hats, and white tabi, donned expressly for the
festival. Never before among these people saw I such men, such thews;
but their smiling beardless faces are comely and kindly as those of
Japanese boys. They seem brothers, so like in frame, in movement, in the
timbre of their voices, as they intone the same song:
No demo yama demo ko wa umiokeyo, Sen ryo kura yori ko ga takara.
'Whether brought forth upon the mountain or in the field, it matters
nothing: more than a treasure of one thousand ryo, a baby precious is.'
And Jizo the lover of children's ghosts, smiles across the silence.
Souls close to nature's Soul are these; artless and touching their
thought, like the worship of that Kishibojin to whom wives pray. And
after the silence, the sweet thin voices of the women answer:
Oomu otoko ni sowa sanu oya Wa, Qyade gozaranu ko no kataki.
The parents who will not allow their girl to be united with her lover;
they are not the parents, but the enemies of their child.'
And song follows song; and the round ever becomes larger; and the hours
pass unfelt, unheard, while the moon wheels slowly down the blue steeps
of the night.
A deep low boom rolls suddenly across the court, the rich tone of some
temple bell telling the twelfth hour. Instantly the witchcraft ends,
like the wonder of some dream broken by a sound; the chanting ceases;
the round dissolves in an outburst of happy laughter, and chatting, and
softly-vowelled callings of flower-names which are names of girls, and
farewell cries of 'Sayonara!' as dancers and spectators alike betake
themselves homeward, with a great koro-koro of getas.
And I, moving with the throng, in the bewildered manner of one suddenly
roused from sleep, know myself ungrateful. These silvery-laughing folk
who now toddle along beside me upon their noisy little clogs, stepping
very fast to get a peep at my foreign face, these but a moment ago were
visions of archaic grace, illusions of necromancy, delightful phantoms;
and I feel a vague resentment against them for thus materialising into
Lying down to rest, I ask myself the reason of the singular emotion
inspired by that simple peasant-chorus. Utterly impossible to recall the
air, with its fantastic intervals and fractional tones--as well attempt
to fix in memory the purlings of a bird; but the indefinable charm of it
lingers with me still.
Melodies of Europe awaken within us feelings we can utter, sensations
familiar as mother-speech, inherited from all the generations behind us.
But how explain the emotion evoked by a primitive chant totally unlike
anything in Western melody,--impossible even to write in those tones
which are the ideographs of our music-tongue?
And the emotion itself--what is it? I know not; yet I feel it to be
something infinitely more old than I--something not of only one place
or time, but vibrant to all common joy or pain of being, under the
universal sun. Then I wonder if the secret does not lie in some untaught
spontaneous harmony of that chant with Nature's most ancient song, in
some unconscious kinship to the music of solitudes--all trillings of
summer life that blend to make the great sweet Cry of the Land.
Chapter Seven The Chief City of the Province of the Gods
THE first of the noises of a Matsue day comes to the sleeper like the
throbbing of a slow, enormous pulse exactly under his ear. It is a
great, soft, dull buffet of sound--like a heartbeat in its regularity,
in its muffled depth, in the way it quakes up through one's pillow so as
to be felt rather than heard. It is simply the pounding of the ponderous
pestle of the kometsuki, the cleaner of rice--a sort of colossal wooden
mallet with a handle about fifteen feet long horizontally balanced on a
pivot. By treading with all his force on the end of the handle, the
naked kometsuki elevates the pestle, which is then allowed to fall back
by its own weight into the rice-tub. The measured muffled echoing of its
fall seems to me the most pathetic of all sounds of Japanese life; it is
the beating, indeed, of the Pulse of the Land.
Then the boom of the great bell of Tokoji the Zenshu temple, shakes over
the town; then come melancholy echoes of drumming from the tiny little
temple of Jizo in the street Zaimokucho, near my house, signalling the
Buddhist hour of morning prayer. And finally the cries of the earliest
itinerant venders begin--'Daikoyai! kabuya-kabu!'--the sellers of
daikon and other strange vegetables. 'Moyaya-moya!'--the plaintive call
of the women who sell little thin slips of kindling-wood for the
lighting of charcoal fires.
Roused thus by these earliest sounds of the city's wakening life, I
slide open my little Japanese paper window to look out upon the morning
over a soft green cloud of spring foliage rising from the river-bounded
garden below. Before me, tremulously mirroring everything upon its
farther side, glimmers the broad glassy mouth of the Ohashigawa, opening
into the grand Shinji Lake, which spreads out broadly to the right in a
dim grey frame of peaks. Just opposite to me, across the stream, the
blue-pointed Japanese dwellings have their to  all closed; they are
still shut up like boxes, for it is not yet sunrise, although it is day.
But oh, the charm of the vision--those first ghostly love-colours of a
morning steeped in mist soft as sleep itself resolved into a visible
exhalation! Long reaches of faintly-tinted vapour cloud the far lake
verge--long nebulous bands, such as you may have seen in old Japanese
picture-books, and must have deemed only artistic whimsicalities unless
you had previously looked upon the real phenomena. All the bases of the
mountains are veiled by them, and they stretch athwart the loftier peaks
at different heights like immeasurable lengths of gauze (this singular
appearance the Japanese term 'shelving'),  so that the lake appears
incomparably larger than it really is, and not an actual lake, but a
beautiful spectral sea of the same tint as the dawn-sky and mixing with
it, while peak-tips rise like islands from the brume, and visionary
strips of hill-ranges figure as league-long causeways stretching out of
sight--an exquisite chaos, ever-changing aspect as the delicate fogs
rise, slowly, very slowly. As the sun's yellow rim comes into sight,
fine thin lines of warmer tone--spectral violets and opalines-shoot
across the flood, treetops take tender fire, and the unpainted faades
of high edifices across the water change their wood-colour to vapoury
gold through the delicious haze.
Looking sunward, up the long Ohashigawa, beyond the many-pillared wooden
bridge, one high-pooped junk, just hoisting sail, seems to me the most
fantastically beautiful craft I ever saw--a dream of Orient seas, so
idealised by the vapour is it; the ghost of a junk, but a ghost that
catches the light as clouds do; a shape of gold mist, seemingly semi-
diaphanous, and suspended in pale blue light.
And now from the river-front touching my garden there rises to me a
sound of clapping of hand,--one, two, three, four claps,--but the
owner of the hands is screened from view by the shrubbery. At the same
time, however, I see men and women descending the stone steps of the
wharves on the opposite side of the Ohashigawa, all with little blue
towels tucked into their girdles. They wash their faces and hands and
rinse their mouths--the customary ablution preliminary to Shinto
prayer. Then they turn their faces to the sunrise and clap their hands
four times and pray. From the long high white bridge come other
clappings, like echoes, and others again from far light graceful craft,
curved like new moons--extraordinary boats, in which I see bare-limbed
fishermen standing with foreheads bowed to the golden East. Now the
clappings multiply--multiply at last into an almost continuous
volleying of sharp sounds. For all the population are saluting the
rising sun, O-Hi-San, the Lady of Fire--Ama-terasu-oho-mi-Kami, the
Lady of the Great Light.  'Konnichi-Sama! Hail this day to thee,
divinest Day-Maker! Thanks unutterable unto thee, for this thy sweet
light, making beautiful the world!' So, doubt-less, the thought, if not
the utterance, of countless hearts. Some turn to the sun only, clapping
their hands; yet many turn also to the West, to holy Kitzuki, the
immemorial shrine and not a few turn their faces successively to all the
points of heaven, murmuring the names of a hundred gods; and others,
again, after having saluted the Lady of Fire, look toward high Ichibata,
toward the place of the great temple of Yakushi Nyorai, who giveth sight
to the blind--not clapping their hands as in Shinto worship, but only
rubbing the palms softly together after the Buddhist manner. But all--
for in this most antique province of Japan all Buddhists are Shintoists
likewise--utter the archaic words of Shinto prayer: 'Harai tamai kiyome
tamai to Kami imi tami.'
Prayer to the most ancient gods who reigned before the coming of the
Buddha, and who still reign here in their own Izumo-land,--in the Land
of Reed Plains, in the Place of the Issuing of Clouds; prayer to the
deities of primal chaos and primeval sea and of the beginnings of the
world--strange gods with long weird names, kindred of U-hiji-ni-no-
Kami, the First Mud-Lord, kindred of Su-hiji-ni-no-Kanii, the First
Sand-Lady; prayer to those who came after them--the gods of strength
and beauty, the world-fashioners, makers of the mountains and the isles,
ancestors of those sovereigns whose lineage still is named 'The Sun's
Succession'; prayer to the Three Thousand Gods 'residing within the
provinces,' and to the Eight Hundred Myriads who dwell in the azure
Takamano-hara--in the blue Plain of High Heaven. 'Nippon-koku-chu-
My uguisu is awake at last, and utters his morning prayer. You do not
know what an uguisu is? An uguisu is a holy little bird that professes
Buddhism. All uguisu have professed Buddhism from time immemorial; all
uguisu preach alike to men the excellence of the divine Sutra.
Back to Full Books