I Acquire Vanity-I Meet a Wise Man-The Distate for Boasting-Imperial Traditions-The First Ambassadors and Consequent Embarrassments-Trappings of Rank- I Display My Knowledge-And Come a Cropper-The Beauties of CalmTHE garden theory of my friend the art collector, so Japanese in its completeness, charmed and satisfied me.
"Now," I thought to myself, "I know."
Thenceforward I looked at gardens not with the unenlightened enthusiasm of the casual amateur, but with a critic's eye. Here and there I would make a mental reservation, saying to myself that the man who made this garden had missed something in one respect or another; that the one great principle, the volcanic principle, had not been fully carried out.
So time went on until presently I found myself in Kyoto, the cultivated city of Japan, seated at a table (upon which were glasses and a bottle) beside one of the most interesting Japanese I had met, a man of ripe age and experience and of a philosophical turn of mind. He loved the history, the legends and the psychology of his native land, and enjoyed sifting them through the interpretative screen of his own intelligence.
I listened to him with eager interest.
"To boast," said he, "is, according to our point of view, one of the cardinal sins. We so detest boasting that we go to the other extreme, depreciating anything or anybody connected with ourselves. Thus, when some one says to me, 'Your brother has amassed a fortune; he must be a man of great ability,' I will reply: 'He is not so very able. Perhaps he is only lucky.' As a matter of fact, it happens that my brother is a man of exceptional ability. But I must not say so; it is not good form for me to praise his qualities.
"In speaking of our wives and children we do the same. We say, 'my poor wife,' or, 'my insignificant wife,' although she may fulfil our ideal of everything a woman should be.
"Also the reverse of this proposition is true. We sometimes signify our disapproval or dislike of some one by speaking of him in terms of too high praise.
"Among ourselves we fully understand these things. It is merely a code we follow. But I fear that this practice sometimes causes foreigners to misunderstand us. Being themselves accustomed to speak literally, they are inclined to take us so. Also, they are not likely to realize that we are most critical of those for whom we have profound regard. Why should we waste our time or our critical consideration upon persons who mean nothing to us or whom we dislike?
"Yet, after all," he continued, with a little twinkle in his eye, "human nature is much the same the world over. There was an American here in Kyoto once who used to forbid his wife and sister to smoke cigarettes, but I observed that he was quick to pass his cigarette-case to other ladies."He drifted on to a further discussion of differences between the point of view of Japan and that of the Occident.
"For twenty-five centuries," said he, "our emperors never lived behind a fortification. There was no need of it. The present imperial palace at Tokyo is, to be sure, protected by a moat and great stone walls, but that was originally built for shoguns, and was taken over by the Imperial House only at the time of the Restoration.
"Our old Japanese idea is that the Emperor is the father of his people. There is a certain reverence, yet a certain democracy, too, in our feeling on this subject. We who have the old ideas regret that the Emperor now appears in a military or naval uniform. It is too much like the European way, too much like abandoning the feeling that he is the head of the family. For a uniform seems to make him only a part of the army or the navy.
"But we had to modify our customs to suit those of other nations. Ambassadors began to come from foreign lands. The Emperor did not wish to see them, but was obliged to do so because they represented great powers to whom we could not say no.
"At first, when the Emperor received ambassadors, he wore his ancient imperial robes and was seated upon cushions, Japanese fashion. But the ambassadors were arrayed in brilliant uniforms covered with decorations, and in accordance with their home customs they cstood in the imperial presence. They would stand before a European king or an American president. Therefore it seemed to them respectful to stand before our Emperor.
"But, according to our customs, that is the worst thing that can happen. We must always be lower than the Emperor; we must not even look from a second-story window when he drives by. The Emperor's audience-room was so constructed that he sat in an elevated place at the head of a flight of steps. But even so, one never entered his presence standing fully erect. The idea of deference was visibly indicated by a stooping position, and as one ascended the steps toward the Imperial Person, one bent over more and more, until, on reaching the plane on which the Emperor was seated, one knelt, with bowed head, so as still to be below him.
"A foreigner, on the other hand, wishing to show proper respect to an exalted personage, would make a bow from the waist and then assume a stiffly erect attitude, almost like a soldier standing at attention. Can you imagine an Occidental admiral or general, with his tight uniform, heavy braid, and sword, approaching any one upon his hands and knees? It would be foreign to his nature and training, not to say ruinous to his costume.
"Moreover, the important foreigners who came to Japan at the beginning of the period of transition were gorgeous with gold lace and jewelled decorations. Up to that time we had no decorations and no modern uniforms and trappings of rank. Even our Emperor, in his magnificent robes, was not adorned with gold braid, and no jewels flashed from his breast.
"Naturally, then, we had to change. We created new orders of nobility; decorations were devised, uniforms were designed, all according to the European plan. In the old days we had shogun, daimio, and samurai. Now we have princes of the blood, princes not of the blood, marquises, counts, viscounts, and barons. We have decorations to shine with foreign decorations. We have field-marshals and admirals to meet the foreign field-marshals and admirals."
He sighed, and looked through the open window to the garden shimmering in moonlight.
"Sometimes," he said, reflectively, "it seems to me that the only place where the spirit of Old Japan can feel at home is when it wanders through our ancient gardens. They are unchanged."
He paused, still gazing through the open window, then went on: "That is another thing I must talk to you about. We Japanese have a profound feeling about gardens. The structure of a garden is a matter of the first importance. You must see some of our gardens."
"I have done so already," I replied. "I have taken pains to visit many of them, and I-"
"But," he interrupted, "I am not speaking entirely of vision in the sense of sight. One must have understanding of these things. I am talking of the basic principles upon which every garden should be made."
"That is just what I am talking about," I returned, enthusiastically. "It happens that I have made quite a study of your theory of gardens."
I must own that I did not speak without a certain complacency. I had the comfortable feeling that always comes to one who hears a subject broached and feels himself well equipped to discuss it.
"That is very gratifying," said the philosopher, politely.
It was indeed very gratifying. My memory was good. I casually mentioned the four periods of Japanese landscape gardening, making easy references to the Emperor Shomu, the scenery near the mouth of the Yangtse River, and the Chinese master Shunsui. Then I began to file my bill of particulars.
"Of course," I said, "the one great secret of the art is to apply the volcanic principle. One should go for themes to places of volcanic origin-places like Lake Chuzenji and Nikko, places where lakes, formed in the beds of extinct volcanoes, overflow, making beautiful waterfalls and torrents which rush through rocky valleys. There, of course, is the basis for your entire garden composition."
He sat staring at me. His eyes shone. Evidently I was making a deep impression on him.
"Of course," I resumed, "volcanic explosions throw rich soil into-"
"Stop!" he cried, half rising from his chair. "Who gave you those theories? Where did you learn all this?"
"In Tokyo," I answered proudly, "I happened to meet-"
"Never mind whom you met," he broke in, his voice trembling with intensity. "These things you have been saying are terrible-terrible! Such ideas are ruining art and beauty in Japan. A garden of that kind is an abomination."
I sat stunned while he stood over me.
"The thing above all others to keep away from," he continued, vehemently, "is anything volcanic. That should be apparent to any one-any one! The very cause of volcanic structure is violence. It is the embodiment of turmoil, unrest." He made a wild gesture with his arms. "A volcano blows up, it explodes-bang! It throws everything about helter-skelter. It is horrible. That is a garden for a madhouse or the palace of a narikin-a new millionaire."
"But don't you think-"
"If one thing is more essential than another in a garden," he went on, ignoring my effort to interrupt, "it is peace, tranquillity, an atmosphere conducive to meditation. Fancy a cultivated gentleman, a philosopher, trying to meditate among volcanoes, waterfalls, and roaring torrents! A garden should have no waterfalls. Water, if it is there at all, should flow as placidly as philosophic thought. There should be no fish darting about, no noisy splashing fountains, no gaudy peonies, or other striking and distracting things. The purpose of a garden should not be display. Its proper purpose is not to excite the beholder, but to fill him with a rich contentment. A garden should be a bathingplace for the soul. And one no more wishes to plunge the soul than the body into a roaring torrent. No; there is in life already too much stress and turmoil. The soul cries out for repose. One must lave it in a crystal pool, healing and refreshing."
He paused, short of breath.
"But don't you think-"
"Say no more! It is late. I must go home."
I walked with him to the garden gate. A new moon hanging in a sky of blue and silver was reflected in a still pool, its margins soft with the dark, cloud-like forms of shrubbery. Near the gate some calla lilies stood like graceful, silent ghosts. The night air was fragrant with the scent of rich, damp soil and growing things.
"But don't you think," I pleaded as I opened the gate to let him pass, "that there is, after all, something poetic in the volcanic conception of a garden?" "No, no," he cried. "Poetic? No. Goodnight. Good night. I do not understand this new Japan. There is no repose any more. It is all volcanoes, all exploding. It is the beauties of calm that we are losing. Calm! Yes, that is it, calm! calm! calm!"
His agitated voice, shouting, "Calm! calm! calm!" came back to me as like a typhoon he whirled off into the darkness, leaving me in the sweet quiet of the garden-to meditate.