II. Off and On.
It was on the day but one before the festival of the fifth moon that we set out, or, in English, the third of May; and those emblems of good luck, the festival fishes, were already swimming in the air above the house eaves, as we scurried through the streets in jinrikisha toward the Uyeno railway station. We had been a little behindhand in starting, but by extra exertions on the part of the runners we succeeded in reaching the station just in time to be shut out by the gatekeeper. Time having been the one thing worthless in old Japan, it was truly sarcastic of fate that we should reach our first goal too late. As if to point chagrin, the train still stood in waiting. Remonstrances with the wicket man about the imported five-minute regulation, or whatever it was, proved of no avail. Not one jot or tittle of the rule would he yield, which perhaps was natural, inasmuch as, however we might have managed alone, our companions the baskets never could have boarded the train without offical help. The intrinsic merits of the baggage failed, alas, to affect its mobility. Then the train slowly drew out.
To be stopped on the road is the common lot of travelers; but to be stopped before one has fairly started is nothing less than to be mocked at. It is best, however, to take such gibes in good part. Viewing the situation in this light, the ludicrousness of the disconnection struck me so forcibly as very nearly to console me for my loss, which was not trifling, since the next train did not leave for above three hours; too late to push on beyond Takasaki that night, a thing I had most firmly purposed to do. Here I was, the miserable victim of a punctuality my own people had foisted on a land only too happy without it! There was poetic justice in the situation, after all. Besides, the course of one's true love should not run too smooth. Judicious difficulty whets desire.
There was nothing to turn to on the spot, and I was ashamed to go home. Then I opportunely remembered something.
I have always thought we limited our pharmacopoeia. We prescribe pills enough for the body, while we leave the mind to look after itself. Why should not the spirit also have its draughts and mixtures, properly labeled and dispensed! For example, angling appears to be a strong mental opiate. I have seen otherwise normal people stupefied beyond expression when at the butt of a rod and line. Happening to recall this effect, I instantly prescribed for my perturbed state of mind a good dose of fishing, to be taken as suited the day. So I betook me down a by-street, where the aerial carp promised the thickest, and, selecting a house well placed for a view, asked permission to mount upon the roof. It chanced to be a cast-off clothing shop, along whose front some fine, if aged, garments were hung to catch the public eye. The camera and I were inducted up the ascent by the owner, while my boots, of course, waited dog-like in the porch below.
The city made a spectacle from above. On all sides superb paper carp floated to the breeze, tugging at the strings that held them to the poles quite after the manner of the real fish. One felt as though, by accident, he had stepped into some mammoth globe of goldfish. The whole sky was alive with them. Eighty square miles of finny folk inside the city, and an untold company without. The counterfeit presentments were from five to ten feet long, and painted to mimic life. The breeze entered at the mouth and passed out somewhat less freely at the tail, thus keeping them well bellied and constantly in motion. The way they rose and dove and turned and wriggled was worthy of free will. Indeed, they had every look of spontaneity, and lacked only the thing itself to turn the sky into an ocean, and Tokyo into a sea bottom with a rockery of roof. Each fish commemorates the birth of a boy during the year. It would thus be possible to take a census of the increase of the male population yearly, at the trifling cost of scaling a housetop, - a set of statistics not without an eventual value.
While we were strolling back, Yejiro and I, we came, in the way, upon another species of fish. The bait, which was well designed to captivate, bade for the moment to exceed even the angler's anticipations. It was a sort of un-Christmas tree with fishing-pole branches, from which dangled articulated figures, bodied like men, but with heads of foxes, tortoises, and other less likelybeasts, - bewitching objects in impossible evolution to a bald-pated urchin who stood gazing at it with all his soul. The peddler sat with his eyes riveted on the boy, visions of a possible catch chasing themselves through his brain. I watched him, while the crowd behind stared at me. We made quite a tail of curiosity. The opiate was having its effect; I began to feel soporifically calm. Then I went up to the restaurant in the park and had lunch as quietly as possible, in fear of friendly discovery.