I. An Unknown.
The fancy took me to go to Noto.
It seemed a strange fancy to my friends.
Yet I make no apology for it; for it was a case of love at first sight.
Scanning, one evening, in Tokyo, the map of Japan, in a vague, itinerary way, with the look one first gives to the crowd of faces in a ballroom, my eye was caught by the pose of a province that stood out in graphic mystery from the western coast. It made a striking figure there, with its deep-bosomed bays and its bold headlands. Its name, it appeared, was Noto; and the name too pleased me. I liked its vowel color; I liked its consonant form, the liquid n and the decisive t. Whimsically, if you please, it suggested both womanliness and will. The more I looked the more I longed, until the desire carried me not simply off my feet, but on to them.
Nobody seemed to know much about my inamorata. Indeed, those I asked asked me, in their own want of information, why I went, and what there was to see: of which questions, the second itself did for answer to the first. Why not in fact have set my heart on going to Noto just because it was not known! Not that it is well to believe all the unseen to be much worth the seeing, but that I had an itching sole to tread what others had not already effacingly betrodden.
Privately, I was delighted with the general lack of knowledge on the subject. It served admirably to put me in conceit with my choice; although I will own I was rather at a loss to account for it, and I can only explain it now by the fact that the place was so out of the way, and not very unlike others, after all. Being thus candid, I ought perhaps to go a step farther and renounce the name. But, on the two great principles that the pursuit is itself the prize and that the means justifies the end, I prefer to keep it. For there was much of interest to me by the way; and I cling to the name out of a kind of loyalty to my own fancy. I like to think that Xenophon felt as much in his Anabasis, though but one book out of seven deals with the going up, the other six being occupied with the getting safely away again. It is not told that Xenophon regretted his adventure. Certainly I am not sorry I was wedded to my idea.
To most of my acquaintance Noto was scarcely so much as a name, and its local habitation was purely cartographic. I found but one man who had been there, and he had dropped down upon it, by way of harbor, from a boat. Some sympathetic souls, however, went so far toward it as to ask where it was.
To the westward of Tokyo, so far west that the setting sun no longer seems to lose itself among the mountains, but plunges for good and all straight into the shining Nirvana of the sea, a strangely shaped promontory makes out from the land. It is the province of Noto, standing alone in peninsular isolation.
It was partly in this position that the fascination lay. Withdrawn from its fellows, with its back to the land, it faced the glory of the western sky, as if in virginal vision gazing out upon the deep. Doubly withdrawn is it, for that the coast from which it stands apart is itself almost unvisited by Europeans, - an out-of-the-world state, in marked contrast to the shore bordering the Pacific, which is now a curbstone on the great waterway round the earth, and incidentally makes a happy parenthesis of promenade for the hasty globe-trotter. The form, too, of the peninsula came in for a share in its attraction. Its coast line was so coquettishly irregular. If it turned its back on the land, it stretched its hands out to the sea, only to withdraw them again the next moment, - a double invitation. Indeed, there is no happier linking of land to water. The navigator in such parts becomes himself a delightfully amphibious creature, at home in both elements. Should he tire of the one, he can always take to the other. Besides, such features in a coast suggest a certain clean-cut character of profile, - a promise, in Japan at least, rarely unkept.
To reach this topographically charming province, the main island had to be crossed at its widest, and, owing to lofty mountain chains, much tacking to be done to boot. Atmospherically the distance is even greater than afoot. Indeed, the change in climate is like a change in zone; for the trend of the main island at this point, being nearly east and west, gives to the one coast a southerly exposure, and to the other a northerly one, while the highest wall of peaks in Japan, the Hida-Shinshiu range, shuts off most meteorological communication. Long after Tokyo is basking in spring, the west coast still lies buried in deep drifts of snow.
It was my misfortune to go to this out-of-the-way spot alone. I was duly sensible of my commiserable state at times. Indeed, in those strange flashes of dual consciousness when a man sees his own condition as if it were another's, I pitied myself right heartily; for I hold that travel is like life in this, at least, that a congenial companion divides the troubles and doubles the joys. To please one's self is so much harder than to be pleased by another; and when it comes to doubt and difficulty, there are drawbacks to being one's own guide, philosopher, and friend. The treatment is too homoeopathic by half.
An excuse for a companion existed in the person of my Japanese boy, or cook. He had been boy to me years before; and on this return of his former master to the land of the enlightened, he had come back to his allegiance, promoting himself to the post of cook. During the journey he acted in both capacities indifferently, - in one sense, not in the other. In addition to being capable he was willing and of great endurance. Besides, he was passionately fond of travel.