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 [1] 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'), [2] 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. [3] '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.'