Katsuura and the Basha-A Noble Coast-Scenes on a Country Road-The Fishers-A Temple and Tame Fish- We Arrive at an Inn-I See a Bath-I Take One-Bathing Customs-The Attentive Nesan-In the TubA journey of about three and a half hours brought us to the seacoast town of Katsuura, the terminus of the little railway line. The industry of Katsuura is fishing, and there is a kind of dried fish put up there which has quite a reputation. Almost every town in Japan has some specialty of its own, whether an edible or something else-something for the traveller to purchase and take home as a souvenir. Many of the best Japanese colour-prints were orginally made for this purpose-souvenirs of cities and towns, celebrated inns, famous actors, and notorious courtesans.
Leaving the train we got into a basha-a primitive one-horse bus with tiny wheels-and took a highway leading south along the shore. The day was brilliant and our road, skirting the edge of the lofty coastal hills half way between their green serried peaks and the yellow beach on which the surf played below, was white and dusty in the hot sun. On level stretches and down-grades we rode in the basha, but we always got out and walked up hills to spare the venerable horse. Nor will travellers who have ever followed such a system be surprised that, of the twenty miles we covered on our way to Kamogawa, fully fifteen seemed to be up-hill miles.
This shore continually reminded me af other shores-Brittany, in the region of Dinard and Cancale, and the cliffs between Sorrento and Amalfi. But here the contours were more tender. Many a beach I saw, with tiny houses strewn along the margin of the sand, fishing boats drawn up in rows, and swarthy men and women bustling about among the nets and baskets, which made me think of the Marina at Capri. Even the air was that of Capri in the springtime. But here there was no song.
A succession of lofty promontories jutting aggressively toward the sea gave interest to the road. Sometimes they turned its course, forcing it to swing out around them; in other cases tunnels penetrated the barrier hills, and we would find ourselves trudging along beside the basha, through damp echoing darkness, with our eyes fixed on a distant point of light, marking the exit, ahead.
It was a much-travelled road. We were continually meeting other bashas creaking slowly through the white dust, or drawn up before inns and teahouses where passengers were pausing for refreshment. During the entire afternoon we met not a single automobile, and when, after an hour or two, a Japanese lady, beautifully dressed and sheltered from the sun by a large parasol, flashed past in a shining ricksha propelled by two coolies, she made a picture strangely sophisticated, elegantly exotic, against the background of that dusty country highway so full of humble folk.
All the women of this region were hard at work. Some were labouring beside their husbands in the mud and water of the paddy fields, others were occupied upon the beach, piling up kelp and carrying it back to huge wooden tubs in which it was being boiled to get the juice from which iodine is extracted, still others were transporting baskets of fresh shiny fish from the newly landed boats to the village markets, or were drawing heavy carts laden with fish-baskets from one village to another. For this coast is the greatest fishing district of all Japan.
On the streets of every village we saw fish being handled-large, brilliant fish laid out in rows on straw mats, preparatory to shipment, huge tubs of smaller fish, and great baskets of silver sardines. Nor was our awareness of piscatorial activities due only to the organs of sight. Now and then a gust of information reached the olfactory organs disclosing with a frankness that was unmistakable, the proximity of a pile of rotted herring, which is used to fertilize the fields.
Winding down a hill through a grove of ancient trees, with the sea glistening between the trunks on one side of the way, we came upon a weathered temple, and, rounding it from the rear, found a tiny village clustered at its base, in as sweet a little cove as one could wish to see-low, brown houses nestling among rocks and gnarled pines, a crescent of yellow beach with fishing boats drawn up beyond the reach of the tide, and children playing among them looking like nude bronzes come to life.
This place, known as Tai-no-ura-Sea-bream Coast -small and remote as it is, has a fame which extends throughout Japan. For it was the abiding place of the thirteenth-century fisherman-priest Nichiren, who, though he antedated Martin Luther by about two and a half centuries, is sometimes called the Martin Luther of Japanese Buddhism. The Nichiren sect is to this day powerful, having more than five thousand temples and a million and a half adherents. Its scriptures are known as the Hokkekyo, and I find a certain quaint interest in the fact that, because this word suggests the call of the Japanese nightingale, the feathered songster is known by a name which means "scripture-reading bird."
The old weathered temple, which we visited, is known as the Tanjo-ji, or Nativity Temple, and is said to have been established in 1286, but to me the most appealing thing about this district is the respect which to this day is accorded Nichiren's prohibition against the catching of fish along this sacred shore. The fishermen of Tai-no-ura go far out before casting their nets, and this has been the case for so long that the fish have come to understand that they are safe inshore, and will rise to the surface if one knocks upon the gunwale of a boat.
I should have liked to linger at this place, but the afternoon was waning and we had still half a dozen miles or more to go.
Sunset was suspended like a rosy fluid in the air when our basha drove down the main street of Kamogawa and stopped before the door of the inn.
To an American, accustomed to the casual reception accorded hotel guests in his native land, the experience of arriving at a well-connducted Japanese inn is almost sensational. "The wheels of our vehicle had hardly ceased to turn when a flock of servitors came running out to welcome and to aid us. A pair of coolies whisked our bags into the portico, and as we followed we were escorted by the gray-haired proprietress and a bevy of nesans, all of them beaming at us and bowing profoundly from the waist.
While I sat on the doorstep removing my shoes, two coolies came from the rear of the building bearing between them a pole from which two huge buckets of hot water were suspended. Pushing back a sliding paper door they entered an adjoining room. A moment later I heard a great splashing, as of water being poured, and looking after them saw that they were emptying their buckets into a large stationary tub built of wood. Nor was I the only witness to the preparation of the bath. Two Japanese women and three children stood by, waiting to use it. And they were all ready to get in.
There was something superbly matter-of-fact about this whole performance which gave me a sudden flash of understanding. All the explaining in the world could not have told me so much about the Japanese point of view on matters of this kind as came through witnessing this picture.
Adam and Eve were not progenitors of these people nor was the apple a fruit indigenous to Japan.
The other members of our party were preparing to bathe in the sea before dinner, but I desired a hot bath and had asked for it as soon as I arrived. While in my room preparing I found myself wondering whether I was about to have an experience in mixed bathing, and if so how well my philosophy would stand the strain.
But the peculiar notions of foreigners concerning privacy in the bath were, it appeared, not unknown to the proprietress of the inn. When I descended the stairs arrayed in the short cotton kimono provided by the establishment, I was not shown to the large bathroom near the entrance, but was taken in tow by a little nesan, who indicated to me that I was to put on wooden clogs-a row of which stood by the door-and follow her across the street to the annex.
The bath was ready. Entering the room with me the nesan slipped the door shut and in a businesslike manner which could be interpreted in but one way, began looping back her sleeve-ends with cord.
"She intends to scrub you!" shrieked all that was conventional within me. "Put her out!"
"But don't you like to be scrubbed?" demanded the inner philosopher.
"Her being a woman makes me self-conscious," I replied to my other self.
"It shouldn't. Your being a man doesn't make her self-conscious. What was it we were saying a little while ago about false modesty?"
"As nearly as I can remember," replied Convention, evasively, "we agreed that Americans are full of false modesty."
Whereupon I turned to the little nesan and with a gesture in the direction of the door exclaimed, "Scat!"
Understanding the meaning of the motion if not the word, she obediently scatted, closing the door behind her. She did not go far, however. Through the paper I could hear her whispering with another nesan in the corridor. I went to the door with the purpose of fastening it, but there was no catch with which to do so. This left me with a certain feeling of insecurity as I bathed.
A well-ordered Japanese bathroom, such as this one was, has a false floor of wood with drains beneath it, so that one may splatter about with the utmost abandon. One does one's actual washing outside the tub, rinsing off with warm water dipped in a pail from a covered tank at one end of the tub. Not until the cleansing process has been completed does one enter the water to soak and get warm. Bathtubs in hotels and prosperous homes are large, and the size of them makes the preparation of a bath a laborious business; for running hot water is a luxury as yet practically unknown in Japan, the water for a bath being heated either in the kitchen, or by means of a little charcoal stove attached to the outside of the tub. To heat the bath by the latter system, which is the one generally used, takes an hour or two; wherefore it is obviously impracticable to prepare a separate bath for each member of the household. In a private house one tub of water generally does for all.
Foreigners newly arrived in Japan are unpleasantly impressed by this system of bathing, and in a Japanese inn they generally make a great point of having first chance at the bath.
Though I do not expect to convince the reader that what I say is so, I must bear testimony to the truth that it is the idea rather than the fact of the Japanese bath which is at first unpleasant. You must understand that the Japanese are physically the cleanest race of people in the world; that, as I have already said, they bathe fully before entering the tub; that the tubbing is less a part of the cleansing process than a means for getting warm; and finally that the water in a tub which has been used by several persons looks as fresh as when first drawn.
I once asked a cosmopolitan Japanese whether he did not prefer our system of bathing. He replied that he did not. "I don't think your way is quite so clean as ours," he explained. "Not unless you take two baths, one after the other, as I always do when I am in Europe or America. I wash in the first bath. Then I draw a fresh tub to rinse off in." Just as this gentleman prefers his native style of bathing I prefer mine; yet I should not object to succeeding him in the bath. Nor am I alone in liking the deep spaciousness of the large-size Japanese bathtub. An American gentleman who was in Japan when I was is having a Japanese bathroom built into his house near New York.
With the bath of the proletariat the system is the same, but the tub is smaller and less convenient. It consists of what is practically nothing more nor less than a large barrel with a small charcoal stove attached to one side. Often it stands out-of-doors.
On emerging from the hot water I found myself without a towel. I went to the door, opened it sufficiently to put my head out through the aperture and summond the nesan who stood near by.
"Towel," I said.
She smiled and shook her head, uncomprehending.
I opened the door a little wider, thrust out one arm and made rubbing motions on it.
"Hai!" she exclaimed, brightly, and went scampering off.
As it was chilly in the room I returned to the hot tub to wait. There I remained for some minutes. Then it occurred to me that, understanding my desire for privacy in the bath, the nesan might be waiting outside with my towel, so I got out again with the intention of looking into the hall.
Just as I emerged, however, the door opened and in she came.
"Scat!" I cried. Whereupon she handed me two towels and fled.
It was well that she did bring two, for the native towel consists of a strip of thin cotton cloth hardly larger than a table napkin. The Japanese do not pretend to dry themselves thoroughly with these towels, but, as I have elsewhere mentioned, wring them out in hot water and use them as a mop, after which they go out and let the air finish the work.
I dried myself as best I could, slipped into the cotton kimono, and returned to the main building of the inn.
In the corridor I encountered my friend the linguist.
"I want to take a photograph of that bathtub," I told him.
"It won't explain itself in a photograph," he returned, "unless there's somebody in it."
I knew what he meant. An American or European, accustomed to the style of bathtub that stands upon the floor, would naturally assume from a picture of this one that it was similarly set. But that was not so. It extended perhaps two feet below the level of the floor; there was a step half-way down the inside to aid one in getting in or out; it was so deep that a short person standing in it would be immersed almost to the shoulders.
"You get in it, then, will you?"
"You ought to have a Japanese."
"But that's out of the question."
"No, it isn't." Nor was it. By the time I got my kodak and put in a roll of film he had a subject for me.
It was the little nesan to whom I had said "scat!" Nor could a grande dame in an opera box have exhibited more aplomb than she did when I photographed her.