My quest still carrying me westward along the line of the new railway, I took the train again, and in the compartment of the carriage I found two other travelers. They were a typical Japanese couple in middle life, and in something above middle circumstances. He affected European clothes in part, while she still clung to the costume of her ancestors. Both were smoking, - she her little pipe, and he the fashionable cigarette. Their mutual relations were those of substance to shadow. She followed him inevitably, and he trod on her feelings regardless of them. She had been pretty when he took her to wife, and though worn and withered she was happy still. As for him, he was quite satisfied with her, as he would have been quite satisfied without her.
The roadbed soon left the Shinano plain, across which peered the opposite peaks, still hooded with snow, and wound up through a narrow valley, to emerge at last upon a broad plateau. Three mountains flanked the farther side in file, the last and highest of the three, Myokosan, an extinct volcano; indeed, hardly more than the ruins of one. Time has so changed its shape, and the snow whitens its head so reverently, it would be possible to pass it by without a suspicion of its wild youth. From the plateau it rose proudly in one long sweep from moor to shoulder, from shoulder to crag, from crag to snow, up into the leaden sky, high into its second mile of air. Subtly the curve carried fancy with it, and I found myself in mind slowly picking my way upward, threading an arete here and scaling a slope there, with all the feelings of a genuine climb. While I was still ascending in this insubstantial manner, clouds fell upon the summit from the sky, and from the summit tumbled down the ravines into the valley, and met me at Naoyetsu in a drizzling rain.
Naoyetsu is not an enlivening spot to be landed at in a stress of weather; hardly satisfactory, in fact, for the length of time needed to hire jinrikisha. It consisted originally of a string of fishermen's huts along the sea. To these the building of the railway has contributed a parallel row of reception booths, a hundred yards in-shore; and to which of the two files to award the palm for cheerlessness it would be hard to know. The huts are good of a kind which is poor, and the booths are poor of a kind which is good. To decide between such rivals is a matter of mood. For my part, I hasted to be gone in a jinrikisha, itself not an over-cheerful conveyance in a pour.
The rain shut out the distance, and the hood and oil-paper apron eclipsed the foreground. The loss was not great, to judge by what specimens of the view I caught at intervals. The landscape was a geometric pattern in paddyfields. These, as yet unplanted, were swimming in water, out of which stuck the stumps of last year's crop. It was a tearful sight. Fortunately the road soon rose superior to it, passed through a cutting, and came out unexpectedly above the sea, - a most homesick sea, veiled in rain-mist, itself a disheartening drab. The cutting which ushered us somewhat proudly upon this inhospitable outlook proved to be the beginning of a pass sixty miles long, between the Hida-Shinshiu mountains and the sea of Japan.
I was now to be rewarded for my venture in an unlooked-for way; for I found myself introduced here to a stretch of coast worth going many miles to see.
The provinces of Hida and Etchiu are cut off from the rest of Japan by sets of mountain ranges, impassable throughout almost their whole length. So bent on barring the way are the chains that, not content with doing so in mid-course, they all but shut it at their ocean end; for they fall in all their entirety plumb into the sea. Following one another for a distance of sixty miles, range after range takes thus its header into the deep. The only level spots are the deltas deposited by the streams between the parallels of peak. But these are far between. Most of the way the road belts the cliffs, now near their base, now cut into the precipice hundreds of feet above the tide. The road is one continuous observation point. Along it our jinrikisha bowled. In spite of the rain, the view had a grandeur that compensated for much discomfort. It was, moreover, amply diversified. Now we rushed out to the tip of some high cape, now we swung round into the curve of the next bay; now we wound slowly upward, now we slipped merrily down. The headlands were endless, and each gave us a seascape differing from the one we folded out of sight behind; and a fringe of foam, curving with the coast, stretched like a ribbon before us to mark the way.
We halted for the night at a fishing village called No: two lines of houses hugging the mountain side, and a single line of boats drawn up, stern on, upon the strand; the day and night domiciles of the amphibious strip of humanity, in domestic tiff, turning their backs to one another, a stone's throw apart. As our kuruma men knew the place, while we did not, we let them choose the inn. They pulled up at what caused me a shudder. I thought, if this was the best inn, what must the worst be like! However, I bowed my head to fate in the form of a rafter lintel, and passed in. A dim light, which came in part from a hole in the floor, and in part from an ineffective lamp, revealed a lofty, grotto-like interior. Over the hole hung a sort of witches' caldron, swung by a set of iron bars from the shadowy form of a soot-begrimed rafter. Around the kettle crouched a circle of gnomes.