“These,” said Manyemon, putting on the table a roll of wonderfully
written Japanese manuscript, “are Vulgar Songs. If they are to be
spoken of in some honorable book, perhaps it will be good to say that
they are Vulgar, so that Western people may not be deceived.”


Next to my house there is a vacant lot, where washermen _(sentukaya)_
work in the ancient manner,–singing as they work, and whipping the wet
garments upon big flat stones. Every morning at daybreak their singing
wakens me; and I like to listen to it, though I cannot often catch the
words. It is full of long, queer, plaintive modulations. Yesterday,
the apprentice–a lad of fifteen–and the master of the washermen were
singing alternately, as if answering each other; the contrast between
the tones of the man, sonorous as if boomed through a conch, and the
clarion alto of the boy, being very pleasant to hear. Whereupon I
called Manyemon and asked him what the singing was about.

“The song of the boy,” he said, “is an old song:–

_Things never changed since the Time of the Gods:_
_The flowing of water, the Way of Love._

I heard it often when I was myself a boy.”

“And the other song?”

“The other song is probably new:–

_Three years thought of her,_
_Five years sought for her;_
_Only for one night held her in my arms._

A very foolish song!”

“I don’t know,” I said. “There are famous Western romances containing
nothing wiser. And what is the rest of the song?”

“There is no more: that is the whole of the song. If it be honorably
desired, I can write down the songs of the washermen, and the songs
which are sung in this street by the smiths and the carpenters and the
bamboo-weavers and the rice-cleaners. But they are all nearly the same.”

Thus came it to pass that Manyemon made for me a collection of Vulgar


By “vulgar” Manyemon meant written in the speech of the common
people. He is himself an adept at classical verse, and despises the
_hayari-uta,_ or ditties of the day; it requires something very
delicate to please him. And what pleases him I am not qualified to
write about; for one must be a very good Japanese scholar to meddle
with the superior varieties of Japanese poetry. If you care to know
how difficult the subject is, just study the chapter on prosody in
Aston’s Grammar of the Japanese Written Language, or the introduction
to Professor Chamberlain’s Classical Poetry of the Japanese. Her poetry
is the one original art which Japan has certainly not borrowed either
from China or from any other country; and its most refined charm is the
essence, irreproducible, of the very flower of the language itself:
hence the difficulty of representing, even partially, in any Western
tongue, its subtler delicacies of sentiment, allusion, and color. But
to understand the compositions of the people no scholarship is needed:
they are characterized by the greatest possible simplicity, directness,
and sincerity.

The real art of them, in short, is their absolute artlessness. That was
why I wanted them. Springing straight from the heart of the eternal
youth of the race, these little gushes of song, like the untaught
poetry of every people, utter what belongs to all human experience
rather than to the limited life of a class or a time; and even in their
melodies still resound the fresh and powerful pulsings of their primal


Manyemon had written down forty-seven songs; and with his help I
made free renderings of the best. They were very brief, varying from
seventeen to thirty-one syllables in length. Nearly all Japanese
poetical metre consists of simple alternations of lines of five and
seven syllables; the frequent exceptions which popular songs offer to
this rule being merely irregularities such as the singer can smooth
over either by slurring or by prolonging certain vowel sounds. Most of
the songs which Manyemon had collected were of twenty-six syllables
only; being composed of three successive lines of seven syllables each,
followed by one of five, thus:–

Ka-mi-yo ko-no-ka-ta
Ka-wa-ra-nu mo-no wa:
Mi-dzu no na-ga-ré to
Ko-i no mi-chi.[1]

Among various deviations from this construction I found 7-7-7-7-5, and
5-7-7-7-5, and 7-5-7-5, and 5-7-5; but the classical five-line form
(_tanka,_) represented by 5-7-5-7-7, was entirely absent.

Terms indicating gender were likewise absent; even the expressions
corresponding to “I” and “you” being seldom used, and the words
signifying “beloved” applying equally to either sex. Only by the
conventional value of some comparison, the use of a particular
emotional tone, or the mention of some detail of costume, was the sex
of the speaker suggested, as in this verse:–

_I am the water-weed drifting,–finding no place of attachment:_
_Where, I wonder, and when, shall my flower begin to bloom?_

Evidently the speaker is a girl who wishes for a lover: the same simile
uttered by masculine lips would sound in Japanese ears much as would
sound in English ears a man’s comparison of himself to a violet or to
a rose. For the like reason, one knows that in the following song the
speaker is not a woman:–

_Flowers in both my hands,–flowers of plum and cherry:_
_Which will be, I wonder, the flower to give me fruit?_

Womanly charm is compared to the cherry flower and also to the plum
flower; but the quality symbolized by the plum flower is moral always
rather than physical.[2] The verse represents a man strongly attracted
by two girls: one, perhaps a dancer, very fair to look upon; the other
beautiful in character. Which shall he choose to be his companion for
life? One more example:–

_Too long, with pen in hand, idling, fearing, and doubting,_
_I cast my silver pin for the test of the tatamizan._

Here we know from the mention of the hairpin that the speaker is
a woman, and we can also suppose that she is a _geisha;_ the sort
of divination called _tatamizan_ being especially popular with
dancing-girls. The rush covering of floor-mats (_tatami,_) woven over
a frame of thin strings, shows on its upper surface a regular series
of lines about three fourths of an inch apart. The girl throws her
pin upon a mat, and then counts the lines it touches. According to
their number she deems herself lucky or unlucky. Sometimes a little
pipe–geishas’ pipes are usually of silver–is used instead of the


The theme of all the songs was love, as indeed it is of the vast
majority of the Japanese _chansons des rues et des bois;_ even songs
about celebrated places usually containing some amatory suggestion.
I noticed that almost every simple phase of the emotion, from its
earliest budding to its uttermost ripening, was represented in the
collection; and I therefore tried to arrange the pieces according
to the natural passional sequence. The result had some dramatic

[Footnote 1: Literally, “_God-Age-since not-changed-things as-for:
water of flowing and love-of way._”]

[Footnote 2: See _Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan,_ ii. 357.]


The songs really form three distinct groups, each corresponding to a
particular period of that emotional experience which is the subject of
all. In the first group of seven the surprise and pain and weakness of
passion find utterance; beginning with a plaintive cry of reproach and
closing with a whisper of trust.


_You, by all others disliked!–oh, why must my heart thus like you?_


_This pain which I cannot speak of to any one in the world:_
_Tell me who has made it,–whose do you think the fault?_


_Will it be night forever?–I lose my way in this darkness:_
_Who goes by the path of Love must always go astray!_


_Even the brightest lamp, even the light electric,_
_Cannot lighten at all the dusk of the Way of Love._


_Always the more I love, the more it is hard to say so:_
_Oh! how happy I were should the loved one say it first!_


_Such a little word!–only to say, “I love you”!_
_Why, oh, why do I find it hard to say like this?_[1]

[Footnote 1: Inimitably simple in the original:–

Horeta wai na to
Sukoshi no koto ga:
Nazé ni kono yō ni


_Clicked-to[2] the locks of our hearts; let the keys remain in our

After which mutual confidence the illusion naturally deepens; suffering
yields to a joy that cannot disguise itself, and the keys of the heart
are thrown away: this is the second stage.

[Footnote 2: In the original this is expressed by an onomatope,
_pinto,_ imitating the sound of the fastening of the lock of a _tansu,_
or chest of drawers:–

Pinto kokoro ni
Jōmai oroshi:
Kagi wa tagai no
Muné ni aru.


_The person who said before, “I hate my life since I saw you,”_
_Now after union prays to live for a thousand years._


_You and I together–lilies that grow in a valley:_
_This is our blossoming-time–but nobody knows the fact._


_Receiving from his hand the cup of the wine of greeting,_
_Even before I drink, I feel that my face grows red._


_I cannot hide in my heart the happy knowledge that fills it;_
_Asking each not to tell, I spread the news all round._[5]

[Footnote 3: Much simpler in the original:–

Muné ni tsutsumenu
Uréshii koto wa;–
Kuchidomé shinagara


_All crows alike are black, everywhere under heaven._
_The person that others like, why should not I like too?_


_Going to see the beloved, a thousand ri are as one ri;_[4]
_Returning without having seen, one ri is a thousand ri._

[Footnote 4: One _ri_ is equal to about two and a half English miles.]


_Going to see the beloved, even the water of rice-fields_[5]
_Ever becomes, as I drink, nectar of gods[6] to the taste._

[Footnote 5: In the original _dorota;_ literally “mud rice-fields,”–
meaning rice-fields during the time of flushing, before the grain has
fairly grown up. The whole verse reads:–

Horeté kayoyeba
Dorota no midzu mo
Noméba kanro no
Aji ga suru.

[Footnote 6: _Kanro,_ a Buddhist word, properly written with two
Chinese characters signifying “sweet dew.” The real meaning is
_amrita,_ the drink of the gods.]


_You, till a hundred years; I, until nine and ninety;_
_Together we still shall be in the time when the hair turns white._


_Seeing the face, at once the folly I wanted to utter_
_All melts out of my thought, and somehow the tears come first!_[7]

[Footnote 7:

Iitai guchi sayé
Kao miriya kiyété
Tokakii namida ga
Saki ni deru.

The use of _tokaku_ (“somehow,” for “some reason or other”) gives a
peculiar pathos to the utterance.]


_Crying for joy made wet my sleeve that dries too quickly;_
_’T is not the same with the heart,–that cannot dry so soon!_


_To Heaven with all my soul I prayed to prevent your going;_
_Already, to keep you with me, answers the blessed rain._

So passes the period of illusion. The rest is doubt and pain; only the
love remains to challenge even death:–


_Parted from you, my beloved, I go alone to the pine-field;_
_There is dew of night on the leaves; there is also dew of tears._


_Even to see the birds flying freely above me_
_Only deepens my sorrow,–makes me thoughtful the more._


_Coming? or coming not? Far down the river gazing,_
_–Only yomogi shadows[8] astir in the bed of the stream._

[Footnote 8: The plant _yomogi_ (_Artemisia vulgaris_) grows wild in
many of the half-dry beds of the Japanese rivers.]


_Letters come by the post; photographs give me the shadow!_
_Only one thing remains which I cannot hope to gain._


_If I may not see the face, but only look at the letter,_
_Then it were better far only in dreams to see._


_Though his body were broken to pieces, though his bones on the
shore were bleaching,_
_I would find my way to rejoin him, after gathering up the bones._[9]

[Footnote 9:

Mi wa kuda kuda ni
Honé we isobé ni
Sarasoto mama yo
Hiroi atsumété
Sôté misho.

The only song of this form in the collection. The use of the verb _soi_
implies union as husband and wife.]


Thus was it that these little songs, composed in different generations
and in different parts of Japan by various persons, seemed to shape
themselves for me into the ghost of a romance,–into the shadow of a
story needing no name of time or place or person, because eternally the
same, in all times and places.


Manyemon asks which of the songs I like best; and I turn over his
manuscript again to see if I can make a choice. Without, in the bright
spring air, the washers are working; and I hear the heavy _pon-pon_
of the beating of wet robes, regular as the beating of a heart.
Suddenly, as I muse, the voice of the boy soars up in one long, clear,
shrill, splendid rocket-tone,–and breaks,–and softly trembles down
in coruscations of fractional notes; singing the song that Manyemon
remembers hearing when he himself was a boy:–

_Things never changed since the Time of the Gods:_
_The flowing of water, the Way of Love._

“I think that is the best,” I said. “It is the soul of all the rest.”

“Hin no nusubito, koi no uta,” interpretatively murmurs Manyemon. “Even
as out of poverty comes the thief, so out of love the song!”




It had been intended to celebrate in spring the eleven hundredth
anniversary of the foundation of Kyōto; but the outbreak of pestilence
caused postponement of the festival to the autumn, and the celebration
began on the 15th of the tenth month. Little festival medals of nickel,
made to be pinned to the breast, like military decorations, were for
sale at half a yen each. These medals entitled the wearers to special
cheap fares on all the Japanese railroad and steamship lines, and
to other desirable privileges, such as free entrance to wonderful
palaces, gardens, and temples. On the 23d of October I found myself in
possession of a medal, and journeying to Kyoto by the first morning
train, which was over-crowded with people eager to witness the great
historical processions announced for the 24th and 25th. Many had to
travel standing, but the crowd was good-natured and merry. A number
of my fellow-passengers were Osaka geisha going to the festival. They
diverted themselves by singing songs and by playing ken with some
male acquaintances, and their kittenish pranks and funny cries kept
everybody amused. One had an extraordinary voice, with which she could
twitter like a sparrow.

You can always tell by the voices of women conversing anywhere–in
a hotel, for example–if there happen to be any geisha among them,
because the peculiar timbre given by professional training is
immediately recognizable. The wonderful character of that training,
however, is fairly manifested only when the really professional tones
of the voice are used,–falsetto tones, never touching, but often
curiously sweet. Now, the street singers, the poor blind women who sing
ballads with the natural voice only, use tones that draw tears. The
voice is generally a powerful contralto; _and the deep tones are the
tones that touch._ The falsetto tones of the geisha rise into a treble
above the natural range of the adult voice, and as penetrating as a
bird’s. In a banquet-hall full of guests, you can distinctly hear,
above all the sound of drums and samisen and chatter and laughter, the
thin, sweet cry of the geisha playing ken,–

_”Futatsŭ! futatsŭ! futatsŭ!”_–

while you may be quite unable to hear the shouted response of the man
she plays with,–

_”Mitsŭ! mitsŭ! mitsŭ!”_


The first surprise with which Kyoto greeted her visitors was the
beauty of her festival decorations. Every street had been prepared for
illumination. Before each house had been planted a new lantern-post of
unpainted wood, from which a lantern bearing some appropriate design
was suspended. There were also national flags and sprigs of pine above
each entrance. But the lanterns made the charm of the display. In each
section of street they were of the same form, and were fixed at exactly
the same height, and were protected from possible bad weather by the
same kind of covering. But in different streets the lanterns were
different. In some of the wide thoroughfares they were very large; and
while in some streets each was sheltered by a little wooden awning, in
others every lantern had a Japanese paper umbrella spread and fastened
above it.

There was no pageant on the morning of my arrival, and I spent a couple
of hours delightfully at the festival exhibition of kakemono in the
imperial summer palace called

Omuro Gosho. Unlike the professional art display which I had seen in
the spring, this represented chiefly the work of students; and

I found it incomparably more original and attractive. Nearly all the
pictures, thousands in number, were for sale, at prices ranging from
three to fifty yen; and it was impossible not to buy to the limit of
one’s purse. There were studies of nature evidently made on the spot:
such as a glimpse of hazy autumn rice-fields, with dragonflies darting
over the drooping grain; maples crimsoning above a tremendous gorge;
ranges of peaks steeped in morning mist; and a peasant’s cottage
perched on the verge of some dizzy mountain road. Also there were fine
bits of realism, such as a cat seizing a mouse in the act of stealing
the offerings placed in a Buddhist household shrine.

But I have no intention to try the reader’s patience with a description
of pictures. I mention my visit to the display only because of
something I saw there more interesting than any picture. Near the
main entrance was a specimen of handwriting, intended to be mounted
as a kakemono later on, and temporarily fixed upon a board about
three feet long by eighteen inches wide,–a Japanese poem. It was a
wonder of calligraphy. Instead of the usual red stamp or seal with
which the Japanese calligrapher marks his masterpieces, I saw the red
imprint of a tiny, tiny hand,–a _living_ hand, which had been smeared
with crimson printing-ink and deftly pressed upon the paper. I could
distinguish those little finger-marks of which Mr. Galton has taught us
the characteristic importance.

That writing had been done in the presence of His Imperial Majesty by
a child of six years,–or of five, according to our Western method of
computing age from the date of birth. The prime minister, Marquis Ito,
saw the miracle, and adopted the little boy, whose present name is
therefore Ito Medzui.

Even Japanese observers could scarcely believe the testimony of their
own eyes. Few adult calligraphers could surpass that writing. Certainly
no Occidental artist, even after years of study, could repeat the feat
performed by the brush of that child before the Emperor. Of course
such a child can be born but once in a thousand years,–to realize,
or almost realize, the ancient Chinese legends of divinely inspired

Still, it was not the beauty of the thing in itself which impressed
me, but the weird, extraordinary, indubitable proof it afforded of an
inherited memory so vivid as to be almost equal to the recollection
of former births. Generations of dead calligraphers revived in
the fingers of that tiny hand. The thing was never the work of an
individual child five years old, but beyond all question the work of
ghosts,–the countless ghosts that make the compound ancestral soul.
It was proof visible and tangible of psychological and physiological
wonders justifying both the Shinto doctrine of ancestor worship and
the Buddhist doctrine of preëxistence.


After looking at all the pictures I visited the great palace garden,
only recently opened to the public. It is called the Garden of the
Cavern of the Genii. (At least “genii” is about the only word one can
use to translate the term “Sennin,” for which there is no real English
equivalent; the Sennin, who are supposed to possess immortal life,
and to haunt forests or caverns, being Japanese, or rather Chinese
mythological transformations of the Indian Rishi.) The garden deserves
its name. I felt as if I had indeed entered an enchanted place.

It is a landscape-garden,–a Buddhist creation, belonging to what is
now simply a palace, but was once a monastery, built as a religious
retreat for emperors and princes weary of earthly vanities. The first
impression received after passing the gate is that of a grand old
English park: the colossal trees, the shorn grass, the broad walks,
the fresh sweet scent of verdure, all awaken English memories. But as
you proceed farther these memories are slowly effaced, and the true
Oriental impression defines: you perceive that the forms of those
mighty trees are not European; various and surprising exotic details
reveal themselves; and then you are gazing down upon a sheet of water
containing high rocks and islets connected by bridges of the strangest
shapes. Gradually,–only gradually,–the immense charm, the weird
Buddhist charm of the place, grows and grows upon you; and the sense of
its vast antiquity defines to touch that chord of the aesthetic feeling
which brings the vibration of awe.

Considered as a human work alone, the garden is a marvel: only the
skilled labor of thousands could have joined together the mere bones
of it, the prodigious rocky skeleton of its plan. This once shaped
and earthed and planted, Nature was left alone to finish the wonder.
Working through ten centuries, she has surpassed–nay, unspeakably
magnified–the dream of the artist. Without exact information,
no stranger unfamiliar with the laws and the purpose of Japanese
garden-construction could imagine that all this had a human designer
some thousand years ago: the effect is that of a section of primeval
forest, preserved untouched from the beginning, and walled away from
the rest of the world in the heart of the old capital. The rock-faces,
the great fantastic roots, the shadowed by-paths, the few ancient
graven monoliths, are all cushioned with the moss of ages; and climbing
things have developed stems a foot thick, that hang across spaces like
monstrous serpents. Parts of the garden vividly recall some aspects
of tropical nature in the Antilles;–though one misses the palms, the
bewildering web and woof of lianas, the reptiles, and the sinister
day-silence of a West Indian forest. The joyous storm of bird life
overhead is an astonishment, and proclaims gratefully to the visitor
that the wild creatures of this monastic paradise have never been
harmed or frightened by man. As I arrived at last, with regret, at the
gate of exit, I could not help feeling envious of its keeper: only to
be a servant in such a garden were a privilege well worth praying for.


Feeling hungry, I told my runner to take me to a restaurant, because
the hotel was very far; and the kuruma bore me into an obscure street,
and halted before a rickety-looking house with some misspelled English
painted above the entrance. I remember only the word “forign.” After
taking off my shoes I climbed three flights of breakneck stairs, or
rather ladders, to find in the third story a set of rooms furnished
in foreign style. The windows were glass; the linen was satisfactory;
the only things Japanese were the mattings and a welcome smoking-box.
American chromo-lithographs decorated the walls. Nevertheless, I
suspected that few foreigners had ever been in the house: it existed by
sending out Western cooking, in little tin boxes, to native hotels; and
the rooms had doubtless been fitted up for Japanese visitors.

I noticed that the plates, cups, and other utensils bore the monogram
of a long-defunct English hotel which used to exist in one of the open
ports. The dinner was served by nice-looking girls, who had certainly
been trained by somebody accustomed to foreign service; but their
innocent curiosity and extreme shyness convinced me that they had never
waited upon a real foreigner before. Suddenly I observed on a table at
the other end of the room something resembling a music-box, and covered
with a piece of crochet-work! I went to it, and discovered the wreck
of a herophone. There were plenty of perforated musical selections. I
fixed the crank in place, and tried to extort the music of a German
song, entitled “Five Hundred Thousand Devils.” The herophone gurgled,
moaned, roared for a moment, sobbed, roared again, and relapsed
into silence. I tried a number of other selections, including “Les
Cloches de Corneville;” but the noises produced were in all cases
about the same. Evidently the thing had been bought, together with
the monogram-bearing delft and britannia ware, at some auction sale
in one of the foreign settlements. There was a queer melancholy in
the experience, difficult to express. One must have lived in Japan to
understand why the thing appeared so exiled, so pathetically out of
place, so utterly misunderstood. Our harmonized Western music means
simply so much noise to the average Japanese ear; and I felt quite sure
that the internal condition of the herophone remained unknown to its
Oriental proprietor.


An equally singular but more pleasant experience awaited me on the
road back to the hotel. I halted at a second-hand furniture shop to
look at some curiosities, and perceived, among a lot of old books,
a big volume bearing in letters of much-tarnished gold the title,
ATLANTIC MONTHLY. Looking closer, I saw “Vol. V. Boston: Ticknor &
Fields. 1860.” Volumes of The Atlantic of 1860 are not common anywhere.
I asked the price; and the Japanese shopkeeper said fifty sen,
because it was “a very large book.” I was much too pleased to think
of bargaining with him, and secured the prize. I looked through its
stained pages for old friends, and found them,–all anonymous in 1865,
many world-famous in 1895. There were installments of “Elsie Venner,”
under the title of “The Professor’s Story;” chapters of “Roba di Roma;”
a poem called “Pythagoras,” but since renamed “Metempsychosis,” as
lovers of Thomas Bailey Aldrich are doubtless aware; the personal
narrative of a filibuster with Walker in Nicaragua; admirable papers
upon the Maroons of Jamaica and the Maroons of Surinam; and, among
other precious things, an essay on Japan, opening with the significant
sentence, “The arrival in this country of an embassy from Japan, the
first political delegation ever vouchsafed to a foreign nation by that
reticent and jealous people, is now a topic of universal interest.” A
little farther on, some popular misapprehensions of the period were
thus corrected: “Although now known to be entirely distinct, the
Chinese and Japanese … were for a long time looked upon as kindred
races, and esteemed alike…. We find that while, on close examination,
the imagined attractions of China disappear, those of Japan become
more definite.” Any Japanese of this self-assertive twenty-eighth
year of Meiji could scarcely find fault with The Atlantic’s estimate
of his country thirty-five years ago: “Its commanding position, its
wealth, its commercial resources, and the quick intelligence of its
people,–not at all inferior to that of the people of the West,
although naturally restricted in its development,–give to Japan … an
importance far above that of any other Eastern country.” The only error
of this generous estimate was an error centuries old,–the delusion of
Japan’s wealth. What made me feel a little ancient was to recognize
in the quaint spellings Ziogoon, Tycoon, Sintoo, Kiusiu, Fide-yosi,
Nobanunga,–spellings of the old Dutch and old Jesuit writers,–the
modern and familiar Shōgun, Taikun, Shintō, Kyūshū, Hideyoshi, and


I passed the evening wandering through the illuminated streets, and
visited some of the numberless shows. I saw a young man writing
Buddhist texts and drawing horses with his feet; the extraordinary fact
about the work being that the texts were written backwards,–from the
bottom of the column up, just as an ordinary calligrapher would write
them from the top of the column down,–and the pictures of horses were
always commenced with the tail. I saw a kind of amphitheatre, with
an aquarium in lieu of arena, where mermaids swam and sang Japanese
songs. I saw maidens “made by glamour out of flowers” by a Japanese
cultivator of Chrysanthemums. And between whiles I peeped into the
toy-shops, full of novelties, What there especially struck me was the
display of that astounding ingenuity by which Japanese inventors are
able to reach, at a cost too small to name, precisely the same results
as those exhibited in our expensive mechanical toys. A group of cocks
and hens made of paper were set to pecking imaginary grain out of a
basket by the pressure of a bamboo spring,–the whole thing costing
half a cent. An artificial mouse ran about, doubling and scurrying, as
if trying to slip under mats or into chinks: it cost only one cent,
and was made with a bit of colored paper, a spool of baked clay, and a
long thread; you had only to pull the thread, and the mouse began to
run. Butterflies of paper, moved by an equally simple device, began to
fly when thrown into the air. An artificial cuttlefish began to wriggle
all its tentacles when you blew into a little rush tube fixed under its

When I decided to return, the lanterns were out, the shops were
closing; and the streets darkened about me long before I reached the
hotel. After the great glow of the illumination, the witchcrafts of the
shows, the merry tumult, the sea-like sound of wooden sandals, this
sudden coming of blankness and silence made me feel as if the previous
experience had been unreal,–an illusion of light and color and noise
made just to deceive, as in stories of goblin foxes. But the quick
vanishing of all that composes a Japanese festival-night really lends a
keener edge to the pleasure of remembrance: there is no slow fading out
of the phantasmagoria, and its memory is thus kept free from the least
tinge of melancholy.


While I was thinking about the fugitive charm of Japanese amusements,
the question put itself, Are not all pleasures keen in proportion
to their evanescence? Proof of the affirmative would lend strong
support to the Buddhist theory of the nature of pleasure. We know that
mental enjoyments are powerful in proportion to the complexity of
the feelings and ideas composing them; and the most complex feelings
would therefore seem to be of necessity the briefest. At all events,
Japanese popular pleasures have the double peculiarity of being
evanescent and complex, not merely because of their delicacy and their
multiplicity of detail, but because this delicacy and multiplicity are
adventitious, depending upon temporary conditions and combinations.
Among such conditions are the seasons of flowering and of fading, hours
of sunshine or full moon, a change of place, a shifting of light and
shade. Among combinations are the fugitive holiday manifestations of
the race genius: fragilities utilized to create illusion; dreams made
visible; memories revived in symbols, images, ideographs, dashes of
color, fragments of melody; countless minute appeals both to individual
experience and to national sentiment. And the emotional result remains
incommunicable to Western minds, because the myriad little details and
suggestions producing it belong to a world incomprehensible without
years of familiarity,–a world of traditions, beliefs, superstitions,
feelings, ideas, about which foreigners, as a general rule, know
nothing. Even by the few who do know that world, the nameless delicious
sensation, the great vague wave of pleasure excited by the spectacle of
Japanese enjoyment, can only be described as _the feeling of Japan._


A sociological fact of interest is suggested by the amazing cheapness
of these pleasures. The charm of Japanese life presents us with the
extraordinary phenomenon of poverty as an influence in the development
of aesthetic sentiment, or at least as a factor in deciding the
direction and expansion of that development. But for poverty, the race
could not have discovered, ages ago, the secret of making pleasure the
commonest instead of the costliest of experiences,–the divine art of
creating the beautiful out of nothing!

One explanation of this cheapness is the capacity of the people to find
in everything natural–in landscapes, mists, clouds, sunsets,–in the
sight of birds, insects, and flowers–a much keener pleasure than we,
as the vividness of their artistic presentations of visual experience
bears witness. Another explanation is that the national religions and
the old-fashioned education have so developed imaginative power that
it can be stirred into an activity of delight by anything, however
trifling, able to suggest the traditions or the legends of the past.

Perhaps Japanese cheap pleasures might be broadly divided into those
of time and place furnished by nature with the help of man, and those
of time and place invented by man at the suggestion of nature. The
former class can be found in every province, and yearly multiply. Some
locality is chosen on hill or coast, by lake or river: gardens are
made, trees planted, resting-houses built to command the finest points
of view; and the wild site is presently transformed into a place of
pilgrimage for pleasure-seekers. One spot is famed for cherry-trees,
another for maples, another for wistaria; and each of the seasons–even
snowy winter–helps to make the particular beauty of some resort. The
sites of the most celebrated temples, or at least of the greater number
of them, were thus selected,–always where the beauty of nature could
inspire and aid the work of the religious architect, and where it
still has power to make many a one wish that he could become a Buddhist
or Shinto priest. Religion, indeed, is everywhere in Japan associated
with famous scenery: with landscapes, cascades, peaks, rocks, islands;
with the best places from which to view the blossoming of flowers, the
reflection of the autumn moon on water, or the sparkling of fireflies
on summer nights.

Decorations, illuminations, street displays of every sort, but
especially those of holy days, compose a large part of the pleasures
of city life which all can share. The appeals thus made to aesthetic
fancy at festivals represent the labor, perhaps, of tens of thousands
of hands and brains; but each individual contributor to the public
effort works according to his particular thought and taste, even while
obeying old rides, so that the total ultimate result is a wondrous, a
bewildering, an incalculable variety. Anybody can contribute to such
an occasion; and everybody does, for the cheapest material is used.
Paper, straw, or stone makes no real difference; the art sense is
superbly independent of the material. What shapes that material is
perfect comprehension of something natural, something real. Whether a
blossom made of chicken feathers, a clay turtle or duck or sparrow, a
pasteboard cricket or man-tis or frog, the idea is fully conceived and
exactly realized. Spiders of mud seem to be spinning webs; butterflies
of paper delude the eye. No models are needed to work from;–or rather,
the model in every case is only the precise memory of the object or
living fact. I asked at a doll-maker’s for twenty tiny paper dolls,
each with a different coiffure,–the whole set to represent the
principal Kyoto styles of dressing women’s hair. A girl went to work
with white paper, paint, paste, thin slips of pine; and the dolls
were finished in about the same time that an artist would have taken
to draw a similar number of such figures. The actual time needed was
only enough for the necessary digital movements,–not for correcting,
comparing, improving: the image in the brain realized itself as fast
as the slender hands could Work. Thus most of the wonders of festival
nights are created: toys thrown into existence with a twist of the
fingers, old rags turned into figured draperies with a few motions
of the brush, pictures made with sand. The same power of enchantment
puts human grace under contribution. Children who on other occasions
would attract no attention are converted into fairies by a few deft
touches of paint and powder, and costumes devised for artificial light.
Artistic sense of line and color suffices for any transformation. The
tones of decoration are never of chance, but of knowledge: even the
lantern illuminations prove this fact, certain tints only being used
in combination. But the whole exhibition is as evanescent as it is
wonderful. It vanishes much too quickly to be found fault with. It is a
mirage that leaves you marveling and dreaming for a month after having
seen it.


Perhaps one inexhaustible source of the contentment, the simple
happiness, belonging to Japanese common life is to be found in this
universal cheapness of pleasure. The delight of the eyes is for
everybody. Not the seasons only nor the festivals furnish enjoyment:
almost any quaint street, any truly Japanese interior, can give real
pleasure to the poorest servant who works without wages. The beautiful,
or the suggestion of the beautiful, is free as air. Besides, no man
or woman can be too poor to own something pretty; no child need be
without delightful toys. Conditions in the Occident are otherwise. In
our great cities, beauty is for the rich; bare walls and foul pavements
and smoky skies for our poor, and the tumult of hideous machinery,–a
hell of eternal ugliness and joylessness invented by our civilization
to punish the atrocious crime of being unfortunate, or weak, or stupid,
or overconfident in the morality of one’s fellow-man.


When I went out, next morning, to view the great procession, the
streets were packed so full of people that it seemed impossible for
anybody to go anywhere. Nevertheless, all were moving, or rather
circulating; there was a universal gliding and slipping, as of fish in
a shoal. I find no difficulty in getting through the apparently solid
press of heads and shoulders to the house of a friendly merchant,
about half a mile away. How any crowd could be packed so closely, and
yet move so freely, is a riddle to which Japanese character alone can
furnish the key. I was not once rudely jostled. But Japanese crowds are
not all alike: there are some through which an attempt to pass would be
attended with unpleasant consequences. Of course the yielding fluidity
of any concourse is in proportion to its gentleness; but the amount
of that gentleness in Japan varies greatly according to locality. In
the central and eastern provinces the kindliness of a crowd seems
to be proportionate to its inexperience of “the new civilization.”
This vast gathering, of probably not less than a million persons, was
astonishingly good-natured and good-humored, because the majority of
those composing it were simple country folk. When the police finally
made a lane for the procession, the multitude at once arranged itself
in the least egotistical manner possible,–little children to the
front, adults to the rear.

Though announced for nine o’clock, the procession did not appear
till nearly eleven; and the long waiting in those densely packed
streets must have been a strain even upon Buddhist patience. I was
kindly given a kneeling-cushion in the front room of the merchant’s
house; but although the cushion was of the softest and the courtesy
shown me of the sweetest, I became weary of the immobile posture at
last, and went out into the crowd, where I could vary the experience
of waiting by standing first oh one foot, and then on the other.
Before thus deserting my post, however, I had the privilege of seeing
some very charming Kyōto ladies, including a princess, among the
merchant’s guests. Kyōto is famous for the beauty of its women; and
the most charming Japanese woman I ever saw was in that house,–not
the princess, but the shy young bride of the merchant’s eldest son.
That the proverb about beauty being only skin-deep “is but a skin-deep
saying” Herbert Spencer has amply proved by the laws of physiology; and
the same laws show that grace has a much more profound significance
than beauty. The charm of the bride was just that rare form of grace
which represents the economy of force in the whole framework of the
physical structure,— the grace that startles when first seen, and
appears more and more wonderful every time it is again looked at. It
is very seldom indeed that one sees in Japan a pretty woman who would
look equally pretty in another than her own beautiful national attire.
What we usually call grace in Japanese women is daintiness of form
and manner rather than what a Greek would have termed grace. In this
instance, one felt assured that long, light, slender, fine, faultlessly
knit figure would ennoble any costume: there was just that suggestion
of pliant elegance which the sight of a young bamboo gives when the
wind is blowing.


To describe the procession in detail would needlessly tire the reader;
and I shall venture only a few general remarks. The purpose of the
pageant was to represent the various official and military styles of
dress worn during the great periods of the history of Kyōto, from
the time of its foundation in the eighth century to the present era
of Meiji, and also the chief military personages of that history. At
least two thousand persons marched in the procession, figuring daimyō,
kugé, hatamoto, samurai, retainers, carriers, musicians, and dancers.
The dancers were impersonated by geisha; and some were attired so as
to look like butterflies with big gaudy wings. All the armor and the
weapons, the ancient head-dresses and robes, were veritable relics
of the past, lent for the occasion by old families, by professional
curio-dealers, and by private collectors. The great captains–Oda
Nobunaga, Kato Kiyomasa, Iyeyasu, Hideyoshi–were represented
according to tradition; a really monkey-faced man having been found to
play the part of the famous Taikō.

While these visions of dead centuries were passing by, the people
kept perfectly silent,–which fact, strange as the statement may
seem to Western readers, indicated extreme pleasure. It is not really
in accordance with national sentiment to express applause by noisy
demonstration,–by shouting and clapping of hands, for example. Even
the military cheer is an importation; and the tendency to boisterous
demonstrativeness in Tōkyō is probably as factitious as it is modern.
I remember two impressive silences in Kobé during 1895. The first
was on the occasion of an imperial visit. There was a vast crowd; the
foremost ranks knelt down as the Emperor passed; but there was not
even a whisper. The second remarkable silence was on the return of the
victorious troops from China, who marched under the triumphal arches
erected to welcome them without hearing a syllable from the people. I
asked why, and was answered, “We Japanese think we can better express
our feelings by silence.” I may here observe, also, that the sinister
silence of the Japanese armies before some of the late engagements
terrified the clamorous Chinese much more than the first opening of
the batteries. Despite exceptions, it may be stated as a general truth
that the deeper the emotion, whether of pleasure or of pain, and the
more solemn or heroic the occasion, in Japan, the more naturally silent
those who feel or act.

Some foreign spectators criticised the display as spiritless,
and commented on the unheroic port of the great captains and the
undisguised fatigue of their followers, oppressed under a scorching
sun by the unaccustomed weight of armor. But to the Japanese all this
only made the pageant seem more real; and I fully agreed with them. As
a matter of fact, the greatest heroes of military history have appeared
at their best in exceptional moments only; the stoutest veterans have
known fatigue; and undoubtedly Nobunaga and Hideyoshi and Kato Kiyomasa
must have more than once looked just as dusty, and ridden or marched
just as wearily, as their representatives in the Kyoto procession. No
merely theatrical idealism clouds, for any educated Japanese, the sense
of the humanity of his country’s greatest men: on the contrary, it is
the historical evidence of that ordinary humanity that most endears
them to the common heart, and makes by contrast more admirable and
exemplary all of the inner life which was not ordinary.


After the procession I went to the Dai-Kioku-Den, the magnificent
memorial Shintō temple built by the government, and described in a
former book. On displaying my medal I was allowed to pay reverence to
the spirit of good Kwammu-Tennō, and to drink a little rice wine in his
honor, out of a new wine-cup of pure white clay presented by a lovely
child-miko. After the libation, the little priestess packed the white
cup into a neat wooden box and bade me take it home for a souvenir; one
new cup being presented to every purchaser of a medal.

Such small gifts and memories make up much of the unique pleasure of
Japanese travel. In almost any town or village you, can buy for a
souvenir some pretty or curious thing made only in that one place,
and not to be found elsewhere. Again, in many parts of the interior a
trifling generosity is certain to be acknowledged by a present, which,
however cheap, will seldom fail to prove a surprise and a pleasure. Of
all the things which I picked up here and there, in traveling about the
country, the prettiest and the most beloved are queer little presents
thus obtained.