III. The Usui Pass.

The first object to catch my eye, when the shoji were pushed apart, the next morning, was a string of the ubiquitous paper fish, dangling limp in the motionless May air from a pole in a neighboring yard; highly suggestive of having just been caught for breakfast. The sight would have been painfully prophetic but for the food we had brought with us; for, of all meals, a Japanese breakfast is the most cold, the most watery, and the most generally fishy in the world. As it was, breakfast consisted of pathetic copies of consecrated originals. It might have been excellent but for the canned milk.

No doubt there are persons who are fond of canned milk; but, for my part, I loathe it. The effect of the sweetish glue upon my inner man is singularly nauseating. I have even been driven to drink my matutinal coffee in all its after-dinner strength rather than adulterate it with the mixture. You have, it is true, the choice of using the stuff as a dubious paste, or of mixing it with water into a non-committal wash; and, whichever plan you adopt, you wish you had adopted the other. Why it need be so unpalatably cloying is not clear to my mind. They tell me the sugar is needed to preserve the milk. I never could make out that it preserved anything but the sugar. Simply to see the stuff ooze out of the hole in the can is deterrent. It is enough to make one think seriously at times of adding a good milch cow to his already ample trip encumberment, at the certain cost of delaying the march, and the not improbable chance of being taken for an escaped lunatic. Indeed, to the Japanese mind, to be seen solemnly preceding a caravan of cattle for purposes of diet would certainly suggest insanity. For cows in Japan are never milked. Dairy products, consequently, are not to be had on the road, and the man who fancies milk, butter, or cheese must take them with him.

It used to be the same in Tokyo, but in these latter days a dairy has been started at Hakone, which supplies fresh butter to such Tokyoites as like it. One of my friends, who had been many years from home, was much taken with the new privilege, and called my attention to it with some pride. The result was a colorless lardy substance that looked like poor oleomargarine (not like good oleomargarine, for that looks like butter), but which was held in high esteem, nevertheless. My friend, indeed, seriously maintained to me once that such was the usual color of fresh butter, and insisted that the yellow hue common elsewhere must be the result of dyes. He was so positive on the point that he almost persuaded me, until I had left him and reason returned. It took me some time to recover from the pathos of the thing: a man so long deprived of that simple luxury that he had quite forgotten how it looked, and a set of cows utterly incapable, from desuetude, of producing it properly.

After I had duly swallowed as much as I could of the doubtful dose supposed to be cafe au lait, the cans were packed up again, and we issued from the inn to walk a stone's throw to the train.

Takasaki stands well toward the upper end of the plain, just below where the main body of it thrusts its arms out into the hills. Up one of these we were soon wending. Every minute the peaks came nearer, frowning at us from their crumbling volcanic crags. At last they closed in completely, standing round about in threatening pinnacles, and barring the way in front. At this, the train, contrary to the usual practice of trains in such seemingly impassable places, timidly drew up.

In truth, the railway comes to an end at the foot of the Usui toge (toge, meaning "pass"), after having wandered up, with more zeal than discretion, into a holeless pocket. Such untimely end was far from the original intention; for the line was meant for a through line along the Nakasendo from Tokyo to Kioto, and great things were expected of it. But the engineering difficulties at this point, and still more at the Wada toge, a little farther on, proving too great, the project was abandoned, and the through line built along the Tokaido instead. The idea, however, had got too much headway to be stayed. So it simply jumped the Usui toge, rolled down the Shinano valley, climbed another divide, and came out, at last, on the sea of Japan.

The hiatus caused by the Usui pass is got over by a horse railroad! Somehow, the mere idea seemed comic. A horse railroad in the heart of Japan over a pass a mile high! To have suddenly come upon the entire Comedie Francaise giving performances in a teahouse at the top could hardly have been more surprising. The humor of the thing was not a whit lessened by its looks.

To begin with, the cars were fairly natural. This was a masterly stroke in caricature, since it furnished the necessary foil to all that followed. They were not, to my eye, of any known species, but, with the exception of being evidently used to hard lines, they looked enough like trams to pass as such. Inside sat, in all seriousness, a wonderful cageful of Japanese. To say that they were not to the horse-car born conveys but a feeble notion of their unnaturalness. They were propped, rather than seated, bolt upright, with a decorum which would have done more than credit to a funeral. They did not smile; they did not even stir, except to screw their heads round to stare at me. They were dummies pure and simple, and may pass for the second item in the properties.

The real personnel began with the horses. These were very sorry-looking animals, but tough enough admirably to pull through the performance. Managing them with some difficulty stood the driver on the front platform, arrayed in a bottle-green livery, with a stiff military cap which gave him the combined look of a German officer and of a musician from a street band. His energy was spent in making about three times as much work for himself as was needed. On the tail of the car rode the guard, also notably appareled, whose importance outdid even his uniform. He had the advantage of the driver in the matter of a second-class fish-horn, upon which he tooted vigorously whenever he thought of it; and he was not a forgetful man.

Comedie Francaise, indeed! Why, here it all was in Japanese farce! From the passivity of the passengers to the pantomime of the driver and guard, it could hardly have been done better; and the actors all kept their countenances, too, in such a surprising manner. A captious critic might have suggested that they looked a thought too much at the audience; but, on the whole, I think that rather added to the effect. At all events, they were excellently good, especially the guard, whose consequential airs could not have been happier if they had been studied for years.

There was no end of red tape about the company. Though the cars were some time in starting, so that I got well ahead of them, they could not admit me on the road, when my baggage kuruma turned out to be too slow, because I had not bought a ticket at the office. So I was obliged to continue to tramp afoot, solacing myself with short cuts, by which I gained on them, to my satisfaction, and by which I gained still more on my own baggage, to my disgust, in that I ceased to be near enough to hasten it.

I had to wait for the latter at the parting of the ways; for the tram had a brand-new serpentine track laid out for it, while the old trail at this point struck up to the right, coming out eventually at a shrine that crowned the summit of the pass. Horse-railroads not being as new to me as to the Japanese, I piously chose the narrow way leading to the temple, to the lingering regret of the baggage trundlers, who turned sorry eyes down upon the easier secular road at every bend in our own.

A Japanese pass has one feature which is invariable: it is always longer than you think it is going to be. I can, of my own experience, recall but two exceptions to this distressing family likeness, both of which were occasions of company which no doubt forbade proper appreciation of their length, and vitiates them as scientific observations. When toiling up a toge I have been tempted to impute acute ascentomania to the Japanese mind, but sober second thought has attributed this inference to an overheated imagination. It seems necessary, therefore, to lay the blame on the land, which, like some people, is deceptive from very excess of uprightness. There is so much more soil than can possibly be got in by simple directness of purpose, or even by one, more or less respectable, slope.

It was cold enough at the summit to cool anything, imaginary or otherwise. Even devotion shivered, as, in duty bound, it admired the venerable temple and its yet more venerable tree. The roofs of the chalets stood weighted with rocks to keep them there, and the tree, raised aloft on its stone-girded parapet, stretched bare branches imploringly toward the sky. So much for being a mile or so nearer heaven, while still of the earth and earthy.

Half-way down the descent, Asamayama came out from behind the brow of a hill, sending his whiffs of smoke dreamily into the air; and a little lower still, beyond a projecting spur on the opposite side, the train appeared, waiting in the plain, with its engine puffing a sort of antiphonal response. The station stood at the foot of the tramway, which tumbled to it after the manner of a cascade over what looked to be a much lower pass, thus apparently supporting the theory of "supererogatory climb." The baggage passed on, and Yejiro and I followed leisurely, admiring the view.

Either the old trail failed to connect with the railway terminus, which I suspect, or else we missed the path, for we had to supply a link ourselves. This resulted in a woefully bad cut across a something between a moor and a bog, supposed to be drained by ditches, most of which lay at right angles to our course. We were not much helped, half-way over, by a kindly intentioned porter, who dawned upon us suddenly in the distance, rushing excitedly out from behind the platform, gesticulating in a startling way and shouting that time was up. We made what sorry speed was possible under the circumstances, getting very hot from exertion, and hotter still from anxiety, and then waited impatiently ten good minutes in our seats in the railway carriage for the train to start. I forget whether I tipped that well-meaning but misguided man.

The tram contingent had already arrived, - had in fact finished feeding at the many mushroom teahouses gathered about the station, - and were now busy finding themselves seats. Their bustle was most pleasing to witness, till suddenly I discovered that there were no first-class carriages; that it was my seat, so to speak, for which they were scrambling. The choice, it appeared, began with second-class coaches, doomed therefore to be doubly popular. Second-class accommodation, by no means merely nominal, was evidently the height of luxury to the patrons of the country half of this disjointed line, which starts so seductively from Tokyo. Greater comfort is strictly confined to the more metropolitan portion.

The second-class coaches had of course the merit of being cheaper, but this was more than offset by the fact that in place of panes of glass their windows had slats of wood with white cotton stretched over them, - an ingenious contrivance for shutting out the view and a good bit of the light, both of which are pleasing, and for letting in the cold, which is not.

"If you go with the crowd, you will be taken care of," as a shrewd financier of my acquaintance used to say about stocks. This occurred to me by way of consolation, as the guard locked us into the carriage, in the approved paternal government style. Fortunately the locking-in was more apparent than real, for it consisted solely in the turning of a bar, which it was quite possible to unturn, as all travelers in railway coaches are aware, by dropping the window into its oubliette and stretching the arm well down outside, - a trick of which I did not scruple to avail myself. My fellow-passengers the Japanese were far too decorous to attempt anything of the kind, which compelled me to do so surreptitiously, like one who committeth a crime.

These fellow-passengers fully made up for the room they took by their value as scientific specimens. I would willingly have chloroformed them all, and presented them on pins to some sartorial museum; for each typified a stage in a certain unique process of evolution, at present the Japanese craze. They were just so many samples of unnatural development in dress, from the native Japanese to the imitated European. The costume usually began with a pot-hat and ended in extreme cases with congress boots. But each man exhibited a various phase of it according to his self-emancipation from former etiquette. Sometimes a most disreputable Derby, painfully reminiscent of better bygone days, found itself in company with a refined kimono and a spotless cloven sock. Sometimes the metamorphosis embraced the body, and even extended down the legs, but had not yet attacked the feet, in its creeping paralysis of imitation. In another corner, a collarless, cravatless semiflannel shirt had taken the place of the under tunic, to the worse than loss of looks of its wearer. Opposite this type sat the supreme variety which evidently prided itself upon its height of fashion. In him the change had gone so far as to recall the East End rough all over, an illusion dispelled only by the innocence of his face.

While still busy pigeonholing my specimens, I chanced to look through the open window, and suddenly saw pass by, as in the shifting background of some scenic play, the lichenveiled stone walls and lotus-mantled moats of the old feudal castle of Uyeda. Poor, neglected, despised bit of days gone by! - days that are but yesterdays, aeons since as measured here. Already it was disappearing down the long perspective of the past; and yet only twenty years before it had stood in all the pride and glory of the Middle Ages. Then it had been

A daimyo's castle, wont of old to wield Across the checkerboard of paddyfield A rook-like power from its vantage square On pawns of hamlets; now a ruin, there, Its triple battlements gaze grimly down Upon a new-begotten bustling town, Only to see self-mirrored in their moat An ivied image where the lotus float.

Some subtle sense of fitness within me was touched as it might have been a nerve; and instantly the motley crew inside the car became not merely comic, but shocking. It seemed unseemly, this shuffling off the stage of the tragic old by the farce-like new. However little one may mourn the dead, something forbids a harlequinade over their graves. The very principle of cosmic continuity has a decency about it. Nature holds with one hand to the past even as she grasps at the future with the other. Some religions consecrate by the laying on of hands; Nature never withdraws her touch.