Comfort disappears - Fine Scenery - An Alarm - A Farm-house - An unusual Costume - Bridling a Horse - Female Dress and Ugliness - Babies - My Mago - Beauties of the Kinugawa - Fujihara - My Servant - Horse-shoes - An absurd Mistake.
FUJIHARA, June 24.
Ito's informants were right. Comfort was left behind at Nikko!
A little woman brought two depressed-looking mares at six this morning; my saddle and bridle were put on one, and Ito and the baggage on the other; my hosts and I exchanged cordial good wishes and obeisances, and, with the women dragging my sorry mare by a rope round her nose, we left the glorious shrines and solemn cryptomeria groves of Nikko behind, passed down its long, clean street, and where the In Memoriam avenue is densest and darkest turned off to the left by a path like the bed of a brook, which afterwards, as a most atrocious trail, wound about among the rough boulders of the Daiya, which it crosses often on temporary bridges of timbers covered with branches and soil. After crossing one of the low spurs of the Nikkosan mountains, we wound among ravines whose steep sides are clothed with maple, oak, magnolia, elm, pine, and cryptomeria, linked together by festoons of the redundant Wistaria chinensis, and brightened by azalea and syringa clusters. Every vista was blocked by some grand mountain, waterfalls thundered, bright streams glanced through the trees, and in the glorious sunshine of June the country looked most beautiful.
We travelled less than a ri an hour, as it was a mere flounder either among rocks or in deep mud, the woman in her girt-up dress and straw sandals trudging bravely along, till she suddenly flung away the rope, cried out, and ran backwards, perfectly scared by a big grey snake, with red spots, much embarrassed by a large frog which he would not let go, though, like most of his kind, he was alarmed by human approach, and made desperate efforts to swallow his victim and wriggle into the bushes. After crawling for three hours we dismounted at the mountain farm of Kohiaku, on the edge of a rice valley, and the woman counted her packages to see that they were all right, and without waiting for a gratuity turned homewards with her horses. I pitched my chair in the verandah of a house near a few poor dwellings inhabited by peasants with large families, the house being in the barn-yard of a rich sake maker. I waited an hour, grew famished, got some weak tea and boiled barley, waited another hour, and yet another, for all the horses were eating leaves on the mountains. There was a little stir. Men carried sheaves of barley home on their backs, and stacked them under the eaves. Children, with barely the rudiments of clothing, stood and watched me hour after hour, and adults were not ashamed to join the group, for they had never seen a foreign woman, a fork, or a spoon. Do you remember a sentence in Dr. Macgregor's last sermon? "What strange sights some of you will see!" Could there be a stranger one than a decent-looking middle-aged man lying on his chest in the verandah, raised on his elbows, and intently reading a book, clothed only in a pair of spectacles? Besides that curious piece of still life, women frequently drew water from a well by the primitive contrivance of a beam suspended across an upright, with the bucket at one end and a stone at the other.
When the horses arrived the men said they could not put on the bridle, but, after much talk, it was managed by two of them violently forcing open the jaws of the animal, while a third seized a propitious moment for slipping the bit into her mouth. At the next change a bridle was a thing unheard of, and when I suggested that the creature would open her mouth voluntarily if the bit were pressed close to her teeth, the standers-by mockingly said, "No horse ever opens his mouth except to eat or to bite," and were only convinced after I had put on the bridle myself. The new horses had a rocking gait like camels, and I was glad to dispense with them at Kisagoi, a small upland hamlet, a very poor place, with poverty- stricken houses, children very dirty and sorely afflicted by skin maladies, and women with complexions and features hardened by severe work and much wood smoke into positive ugliness, and with figures anything but statuesque.