IV. FROM A TRAVELING DIARY
OSAKA-KYOTO RAILWAY. April 15, 1895.
Feeling drowsy in a public conveyance, and not being able to lie down, a Japanese woman will lift her long sleeve before her face era she begins to nod. In this second-class railway-carriage there are now three women asleep in a row, all with faces screened by the left sleeve, and all swaying together with the rocking of the train, like lotos-flowers in a soft current. (This use of the left sleeve is either fortuitous or instinctive; probably instinctive, as the right hand serves best to cling to strap or seat in case of shock.) The spectacle is at once pretty and funny, but especially pretty, as exemplifying that grace with which a refined Japanese woman does everything, - always in the daintiest and least selfish way possible. It is pathetic, too, for the attitude is also that of sorrow, and sometimes of weary prayer. All because of the trained sense of duty to show only one's happiest face to the world.
Which fact reminds me of an experience.
A male servant long in my house seemed to me the happiest of mortals. He laughed invariably when spoken to, looked always delighted while at work, appeared to know nothing of the small troubles of life. But one day I peeped at him when he thought himself quite alone, and his relaxed face startled me. It was not the face I had known. Hard lines of pain and anger appeared in it, making it seem twenty years older. I coughed gently to announce my presence. At once the face smoothed, softened, lighted up as by a miracle of rejuvenation. Miracle, indeed, of perpetual unselfish self-control.
Kyoto, April 16.
The wooden shutters before my little room in the hotel are pushed away; and the morning sun immediately paints upon my shoji, across squares of gold light, the perfect sharp shadow of a little peach-tree. No mortal artist - not even a Japanese - could surpass that silhouette! Limned in dark blue against the yellow glow, the marvelous image even shows stronger or fainter tones according to the varying distance of the unseen branches outside. it sets me thinking about the possible influence on Japanese art of the use of paper for house-lighting purposes.
By night a Japanese house with only its shoji closed looks like a great paper-sided lantern, - a magic-lantern making moving shadows within, instead of without itself. By day the shadows on the shoji are from outside only; but they may be very wonderful at the first rising of the sun, if his beams are leveled, as in this instance, across a space of quaint garden.
There is certainly nothing absurd in that old Greek story which finds the origin of art in the first untaught attempt to trace upon some wall the outline of a lover's shadow. Very possibly all sense of art, as well as all sense of the supernatural, had its simple beginnings in the study of shadows. But shadows on shoji are so remarkable as to suggest explanation of certain Japanese faculties of drawing by no means primitive, but developed beyond all parallel, and otherwise difficult to account for. Of course, the quality of Japanese paper, which takes shadows better than any frosted glass, must be considered, and also the character of the shadows themselves. Western vegetation, for example, could scarcely furnish silhouettes so gracious as those of Japanese garden-trees, all trained by centuries of caressing care to look as lovely as Nature allows.
I wish the paper of my shoji could have been, like a photographic plate, sensitive to that first delicious impression cast by a level sun. I am already regretting distortions: the beautiful silhouette has begun to lengthen.
Kyoto, April l6.
Of all peculiarly beautiful things in Japan, the most beautiful are the approaches to high places of worship or of rest, - the Ways that go to Nowhere and the Steps that lead to Nothing.
Certainly, their special charm is the charm of the adventitious, - the effect of man's handiwork in union with Nature's finest moods of light and form and color, - a charm which vanishes on rainy days; but it is none the less wonderful because fitful.
Perhaps the ascent begins with a sloping paved avenue, half a mile long, lined with giant trees. Stone monsters guard the way at regular intervals. Then you come to some great flight of steps ascending through green gloom to a terrace umbraged by older and vaster trees; and other steps from thence lead to other terraces, all in shadow. And you climb and climb and climb, till at last, beyond a gray torii, the goal appears: a small, void, colorless wooden shrine, - a Shinto miya. The shock of emptiness thus received, in the high silence and the shadows, after all the sublimity of the long approach, is very ghostliness itself.
Of similar Buddhist experiences whole multitudes wait for those who care to seek them. I might suggest, for example, a visit to the grounds of Higashi Otani, which are in the city of Kyoto. A grand avenue leads to the court of a temple, and from the court a flight of steps fully fifty feet wide - massy, mossed, and magnificently balustraded - leads to a walled terrace. The scene makes one think of the approach to some Italian pleasure-garden of Decameron days. But, reaching the terrace, you find only a gate, opening - into a cemetery! Did the Buddhist landscape-gardener wish to tell us that all pomp and power and beauty lead only to such silence at last?
KYOTO, April 10-20.