A Lovely Sunset - An Official Letter - A "Front Horse" - Japanese Courtesy - The Steam Ferry - Coolies Abscond - A Team of Savages - A Drove of Horses - Floral Beauties - An Unbeaten Track - A Ghostly Dwelling - Solitude and Eeriness.
GINSAINOMA, YEZO, August 17.
I am once again in the wilds! I am sitting outside an upper room built out almost over a lonely lake, with wooded points purpling and still shadows deepening in the sinking sun. A number of men are dragging down the nearest hillside the carcass of a bear which they have just despatched with spears. There is no village, and the busy clatter of the cicada and the rustle of the forest are the only sounds which float on the still evening air. The sunset colours are pink and green; on the tinted water lie the waxen cups of great water-lilies, and above the wooded heights the pointed, craggy, and altogether naked summit of the volcano of Komono-taki flushes red in the sunset. Not the least of the charms of the evening is that I am absolutely alone, having ridden the eighteen miles from Hakodate without Ito or an attendant of any kind; have unsaddled my own horse, and by means of much politeness and a dexterous use of Japanese substantives have secured a good room and supper of rice, eggs, and black beans for myself and a mash of beans for my horse, which, as it belongs to the Kaitakushi, and has the dignity of iron shoes, is entitled to special consideration!
I am not yet off the "beaten track," but my spirits are rising with the fine weather, the drier atmosphere, and the freedom of Yezo. Yezo is to the main island of Japan what Tipperary is to an Englishman, Barra to a Scotchman, "away down in Texas" to a New Yorker - in the rough, little known, and thinly-peopled; and people can locate all sorts of improbable stories here without much fear of being found out, of which the Ainos and the misdeeds of the ponies furnish the staple, and the queer doings of men and dogs, and adventures with bears, wolves, and salmon, the embroidery. Nobody comes here without meeting with something queer, and one or two tumbles either with or from his horse. Very little is known of the interior except that it is covered with forest matted together by lianas, and with an undergrowth of scrub bamboo impenetrable except to the axe, varied by swamps equally impassable, which give rise to hundreds of rivers well stocked with fish. The glare of volcanoes is seen in different parts of the island. The forests are the hunting-grounds of the Ainos, who are complete savages in everything but their disposition, which is said to be so gentle and harmless that I may go among them with perfect safety.
Kindly interest has been excited by the first foray made by a lady into the country of the aborigines; and Mr. Eusden, the Consul, has worked upon the powers that be with such good effect that the Governor has granted me a shomon, a sort of official letter or certificate, giving me a right to obtain horses and coolies everywhere at the Government rate of 6 sen a ri, with a prior claim to accommodation at the houses kept up for officials on their circuits, and to help and assistance from officials generally; and the Governor has further telegraphed to the other side of Volcano Bay desiring the authorities to give me the use of the Government kuruma as long as I need it, and to detain the steamer to suit my convenience! With this document, which enables me to dispense with my passport, I shall find travelling very easy, and I am very grateful to the Consul for procuring it for me.
Here, where rice and tea have to be imported, there is a uniform charge at the yadoyas of 30 sen a day, which includes three meals, whether you eat them or not. Horses are abundant, but are small, and are not up to heavy weights. They are entirely unshod, and, though their hoofs are very shallow and grow into turned-up points and other singular shapes, they go over rough ground with facility at a scrambling run of over four miles an hour following a leader called a "front horse." If you don't get a "front horse" and try to ride in front, you find that your horse will not stir till he has another before him; and then you are perfectly helpless, as he follows the movements of his leader without any reference to your wishes. There are no mago; a man rides the "front horse" and goes at whatever pace you please, or, if you get a "front horse," you may go without any one. Horses are cheap and abundant. They drive a number of them down from the hills every morning into corrals in the villages, and keep them there till they are wanted. Because they are so cheap they are very badly used. I have not seen one yet without a sore back, produced by the harsh pack-saddle rubbing up and down the spine, as the loaded animals are driven at a run. They are mostly very poor-looking.
As there was some difficulty about getting a horse for me the Consul sent one of the Kaitakushi saddle-horses, a handsome, lazy animal, which I rarely succeeded in stimulating into a heavy gallop. Leaving Ito to follow with the baggage, I enjoyed my solitary ride and the possibility of choosing my own pace very much, though the choice was only between a slow walk and the lumbering gallop aforesaid.