LETTER XL - (Continued)
The Sea-shore - A "Hairy Aino" - A Horse Fight - The Horses of Yezo - "Bad Mountains" - A Slight Accident - Magnificent Scenery - A Bleached Halting-Place - A Musty Room - Aino "Good-breeding."
A charge of 3 sen per ri more for the horses for the next stage, because there were such "bad mountains to cross," prepared me for what followed - many miles of the worst road for horses I ever saw. I should not have complained if they had charged double the price. As an almost certain consequence, it was one of the most picturesque routes I have ever travelled. For some distance, however, it runs placidly along by the sea-shore, on which big, blue, foam-crested rollers were disporting themselves noisily, and passes through several Aino hamlets, and the Aino village of Abuta, with sixty houses, rather a prosperous-looking place, where the cultivation was considerably more careful, and the people possessed a number of horses. Several of the houses were surrounded by bears' skulls grinning from between the forked tops of high poles, and there was a well-grown bear ready for his doom and apotheosis. In nearly all the houses a woman was weaving bark-cloth, with the hook which holds the web fixed into the ground several feet outside the house. At a deep river called the Nopkobets, which emerges from the mountains close to the sea, we were ferried by an Aino completely covered with hair, which on his shoulders was wavy like that of a retriever, and rendered clothing quite needless either for covering or warmth. A wavy, black beard rippled nearly to his waist over his furry chest, and, with his black locks hanging in masses over his shoulders, he would have looked a thorough savage had it not been for the exceeding sweetness of his smile and eyes. The Volcano Bay Ainos are far more hairy than the mountain Ainos, but even among them it is quite common to see men not more so than vigorous Europeans, and I think that the hairiness of the race as a distinctive feature has been much exaggerated, partly by the smooth-skinned Japanese.
The ferry scow was nearly upset by our four horses beginning to fight. At first one bit the shoulders of another; then the one attacked uttered short, sharp squeals, and returned the attack by striking with his fore feet, and then there was a general melee of striking and biting, till some ugly wounds were inflicted. I have watched fights of this kind on a large scale every day in the corral. The miseries of the Yezo horses are the great drawback of Yezo travelling. They are brutally used, and are covered with awful wounds from being driven at a fast "scramble" with the rude, ungirthed pack-saddle and its heavy load rolling about on their backs, and they are beaten unmercifully over their eyes and ears with heavy sticks. Ito has been barbarous to these gentle, little- prized animals ever since we came to Yezo; he has vexed me more by this than by anything else, especially as he never dared even to carry a switch on the main island, either from fear of the horses or their owners. To-day he was beating the baggage horse unmercifully, when I rode back and interfered with some very strong language, saying, "You are a bully, and, like all bullies, a coward." Imagine my aggravation when, at our first halt, he brought out his note-book, as usual, and quietly asked me the meaning of the words "bully" and "coward." It was perfectly impossible to explain them, so I said a bully was the worst name I could call him, and that a coward was the meanest thing a man could be. Then the provoking boy said, "Is bully a worse name than devil?" "Yes, far worse," I said, on which he seemed rather crestfallen, and he has not beaten his horse since, in my sight at least
The breaking-in process is simply breaking the spirit by an hour or two of such atrocious cruelty as I saw at Shiraoi, at the end of which the horse, covered with foam and blood, and bleeding from mouth and nose, falls down exhausted. Being so ill used they have all kinds of tricks, such as lying down in fords, throwing themselves down head foremost and rolling over pack and rider, bucking, and resisting attempts to make them go otherwise than in single file. Instead of bits they have bars of wood on each side of the mouth, secured by a rope round the nose and chin. When horses which have been broken with bits gallop they put up their heads till the nose is level with the ears, and it is useless to try either to guide or check them. They are always wanting to join the great herds on the hillside or sea-shore, from which they are only driven down as they are needed. In every Yezo village the first sound that one hears at break of day is the gallop of forty or fifty horses, pursued by an Aino, who has hunted them from the hills. A horse is worth from twenty-eight shillings upwards. They are very sure-footed when their feet are not sore, and cross a stream or chasm on a single rickety plank, or walk on a narrow ledge above a river or gulch without fear. They are barefooted, their hoofs are very hard, and I am glad to be rid of the perpetual tying and untying and replacing of the straw shoes of the well- cared-for horses of the main island. A man rides with them, and for a man and three horses the charge is only sixpence for each 2.5 miles. I am now making Ito ride in front of me, to make sure that he does not beat or otherwise misuse his beast.