We seemed bound that day to meet freaks in fishing-tackle. The next one to turn up was a kind of crinoline. This strange thing confronted us as we disembarked at Anamidzu. Anamidzu was the last port in the inland sea. After touching here the steamer passed out into the sea of Japan and tied up for the night at a small port on the eastern side of the nose of the peninsula.
As the town lay away from the shore up what looked like a canal, we were transferred to a small boat to be rowed in. Just as we reached the beginnings of the canal we saw squatting on the bank an old crone contemplating, it seemed, the forlorn remains of a hoopskirt which dangled from a pole before her, half in and half out of water. The chief difference between this and the more common article of commerce was merely one of degree, since here the ribs by quite meeting at the top entirely suppressed the waist. Their lower extremities were hid in the water and were, I was informed, baited with hooks.
The old lady's attitude was one of inimitable apathy; nor did she so much as blink at us, as we passed. A little farther up, on the opposite bank, sat a similar bit of still life. A third beyond completed the picture. These good dames bordered the brink like so many meditative frogs. Though I saw them for the first time in the flesh, I recognized them at once. Here were the identical fisherfolk who have sat for centuries in the paintings of Tsunenobu, not a whit more immovable in kakemono than in real life. I almost looked to find the master's seal somewhere in the corner of the landscape.
The worthy souls were, I was told, inkyos; a social, or rather unsocial state, which in their case may be rendered unwidowed dowagers; since, in company with their husbands, they had renounced all their social titles and estates. Their daughters-in-law now did the domestic drudgery, while they devoted their days thus to sport.
Whether it were the dames, or the canal, or more likely still, some touch of atmosphere, but I was reminded of Holland. Indeed, I know not what the special occasion was. It is a strange fabric we are so busy weaving out of sensations. Let something accidentally pick up an old thread, and behold, without rhyme or reason, we are treated to a whole piece of past experience. Stranger yet when but the background is brought back. For we were unconscious of the warp while the details were weaving in. Yet reproduce it and all the woof starts suddenly to sight. For atmosphere, like a perfume, does ghostly service to the past.
There is something less mediate in my remembrance of Anamidzu. The place has to me a memory of its own that hangs about the room they made mine for an hour. It was certainly a pretty room; surprisingly so, for such an out-of-the-way spot. I dare say it was only that to my fellow-voyager of the steamer, hurrying homeward to Wakamatsu. I could hear him in the next apartment making merry over his midday meal. To him the place stood for the last stage on the journey home. But to me, it meant more. It marked both the end of the beginning, and the beginning of the end. For I had fixed upon this spot for my turning point.
It was high noon in my day of travel, like the high noon there outside the open shoji. The siesta of sensation had come. Thus far, the coming events had cast their shadows before and I had followed; now they had touched their zenith here in mid-Noto. Henceforth I should see them moving back again toward the east. The dazzling sunshine without pointed the shade within, making even the room seem more shadowy than it was. I began to feel creeping over me that strange touch of sadness that attends the supreme moment of success, though fulfillment be so trifling a thing as a journey's bourne. Great or little, real or fancied, the feeling is the same in kind. The mind seems strangely like the eye. Satisfy some emotion it has been dwelling on, and the relaxed nerves at once make you conscious of the complementary tint.
Then other inns in Japan came up regretfully across the blue distance of the intervening years, midday halts, where an hour of daydream lay sandwiched in between two half days of tramp. And I thought of the companions now so far away. Having heard the tune in a minor key, these came in as chords of some ampler variation, making a kind of symphony of sentiment, where I was brought back ever and anon to the simple motif. And the teahouse maidens entered and went out again like mutes in my mind's scene.
I doubt not the country beyond is all very commonplace, but it might be an Eldorado from the gilding fancy gave it then. I was told the hills were not high, and that eighteen miles on foot would land the traveler at Wakamatsu on the sea of Japan, fronting Korea, but seeing only the sea, and I feel tolerably sure there is nothing there to repay the tramp. When a back has bewitched you in the street, it is a fatal folly to try to see the face. You will only be disillusioned if you do.