CHAPTER XXIV

A Walk in a Kimono-Dinner at the Inn-Sweet Servitors -An Evening's Enchantment-The Disadvantages of Ramma -My Neighbours Retire-A Japanese Bed-Breakfast- "Bear's Milk" -The Village of Nabulo-An Island and a Cave-The Abelone Divers-A Sail with Fishermen
LET'S take a walk before dinner,"said the linguist when our photographic enterprise had been accomplished.

"All right. I'll go and dress."

"Come as you are."

"After a hot bath I might take cold in this thin kimono."

"No. That's a curious thing about hot baths in Japan. The reaction from them is much like that we get at home from cold ones."

"But, dressed this way, won't we look queer?"

I surveyed the lower hem of my kimono which hung only a little below my knees.

"It's the costume of the country."

"But it's awfully short on us. It seems to me we ought to put on underwear at least."

"Nonsense. A man doesn't know what comfort is until he has strolled out in a kimono after a bath."

Our costumes were identical. We looked equally absurd. I consented.

My one difficulty on that stroll was with my clogs. I could not walk as fast as my companion, nor did I dare to lift my feet from the ground lest the clogs should fall off. And yet I can see that if one is brought up on clogs there is much to be said in their favour. They are durable and cheap. They neither suffocate nor cramp the foot.

Once I spoke to a Japanese friend of the merits of the clog, but though the admitted that his clogwearing countrymen had no trouble with their feet, he thought clogs, on the whole, a bad thing. "The movement for good roads in Japan," "he said, "started when people began to wear shoes. Those who wear clogs do not object to bad pavements, and we shall never get good ones until clogs are discarded by the majority."

We had not walked a block before I perceived that my companion had not overstated the case for the kimono as a costume for a stroll on a balmy evening. It does not bind one anywhere, but leaves one's arms and legs delightfully free. Moreover the air penetrates to the body, and the feeling of it after a very hot bath is as refreshing as an alcohol rub.

The streets were full of people many of them fishermen dressed much as we were. But though reason told me that in our kimonos we were less conspicuous than we should have been in our customary attire, I could not rid myself of the feeling that we were masqueraders, and that if people were to recognize us through the darkness for foreigners, we should have a crowd following us. Wherefore, though our promenade proved absolutely uneventful, I was upon the whole relieved when, after having gone the length of the main street and back, we reentered the hotel.

Our dinner that night was purely Japanese; the nesans brought the usual little foot-high lacquer tables laden with covered bowls of porcelain and lacquer; we sat upon silken cushions on the matting in the linguist's room and struggled bravely with our chop-sticks.

The room was on the second floor. Through the open shoji we could look across a tiny garden into other rooms, open like ours to the soft evening air, and we could see the nesans gliding back and forth between these rooms and the kitchen, moving along the polished wooden floor of the gallery with their characteristic pigeon-toed shuffle.

In an American hotel our little party would. have been served by one waiter; here we were attended by three nesans, one of whom squatted on the matting beside the rice bucket, ready to help us when we held out our bowls for more (for we had rice with our soup, our fish, and our tea), while the other two brought things from the kitchen, below stairs. And no matter how many times they had been in the room before, they always dropped to their knees, on entering, and bent their foreheads nearly to the floor in respectful salutation, ere they served the new course.

This courtesy, so natural to them, made me feel very, very far from home, for in it seemed to be crystallized the romantic charm of the antipodes. The whole environment, moreover, enhanced my feeling. The exquisite simplicty of our room, and of the other rooms across the garden; the soft lights shining through the rice paper of shoji here and there; the silhouettes, so Japanese, which passed across them; the shimmering of the dark green leaves of small trees whose upper branches reached a little bit above the floor level; the tinkling note of a samisen played in some remote part of the building; the almond eyes and massed ebony hair of our gentle little servitors, their butterfly costumes, the strange, soft rattle of their language, the curious unfamiliar flavours of the viands; all these combined to make me feel as one transported into an enchantment, vivid and fantastic as a painting by Backham or Dulac.

And yet, fascinated as I was with all this magic loveliness, I felt a gentle melancholy. For the shoji at the rear of the room were pushed back like the others, and from the beach on which they opened there came to me through the darkness an insistent note of definite and almost terrible reality: the murmur of that ocean, black, restless, turbulent, ominous, unimaginably vast, by which I was cut off from home.

My own room was next to that of the linguist, but the room beyond mine was occupied by a Japanese couple. The rooms were divided by wars consisting of opaque paper screens, sliding in grooves, and even these frail partitions were incomplete, for, as in all Japanese houses, there were ramma, or grills, over the tops of the screens. The purpose of these ramma is to give ventilation at night, when the building is solidly encased in wooden shutters; but though it is true that they do permit some air to circulate, it is equally true that they permit the circulation of sound and light. Herein lies the foreigner's chief objection to the Japanese style of house-it is utterly without privacy.

I endeavoured to be quiet as I made ready for bed, and I am sure my Japanese neighbours likewise tried, but their whisperings and the little rustling sounds they made as they moved about, enhanced rather than diminished my consciousness of their proximity.

After I had put out my light my room continued for some time to be illuminated by the glow which came through the ramma on both sides. Presently the linguist's light went out, but that from the room of my other neighbours persisted, keeping me awake. This was the first time that I acutely missed chairs as an adjunct to Japanese life; if I had a chair I could hang a kimono over it to make a screen for my eyes. At last, however, I heard a little click, which was immediately followed by darkness. Then a sound of soft steps. Then a comfortable sigh. Then silence.

it was my first night in a Japanese bed. The bed consisted of two thin floss-silk mattresses, laid one above the other on the matting, and partly covered with what seemed to be a towel. It was all very clean. The pillow was a cylinder of cotton about six inches in diameter, stuffed with some substance as heavy and as crackling as pine needles, but odourless. I think the stuffing was of ricehusks. My nightgown was a cotton kimono like the one in which I had gone walking, and my coverlet was the usual bed-covering of Japan-a quilted satin robe, very long, with armholes and spacious sleeves: a cross between a comforter and a kimono. I did not use the sleeves, but pulled it over as one would if sleeping under an overcoat.

In all but one respect it was a comfortable bed. The thing that troubled me was the hard round pillow. I moved it about; I tried to flatten it; I tried my hand under it, and over it, between it and my face.

"I shall never be able to sleep on such a pillow!" I thought, irritably. And the next thing I knew it was morning and time to get up.

This inn, being exceptionally well appointed, provided separate wash-rooms for men and women. We trooped down and bathed. Then we breakfasted. The breakfast was much like the dinner of the night before-rice, soup, fish, and tea.

"If any one feels the need of coffee," said the linguist, "we may be able to get it, but the chances are it won't be very good. I've got a can of condensed milk here, too." He held ip the can. I noticed that it was called "Bear Brand" Milk, and that the label bore the picture of a bear.

"Don't they have fresh milk at these inns?" someone asked.

"A few of them have it now," he replied, "but it is only in the last few years that the people of this locality have learned to use milk at all."

This reminded him of a story which he told us.

On one of his walking trips he had stopped at an inn which boasted of having been patronized by an Imperial Prince. The friend who accompanied the linguist on that trip wanted coffee for breakfast, and the innkeeper managed to supply it. The linguist had a can of "Bear Brand" Milk in his haversack, but he did not wish to open it if milk could be produced at the inn.

"Can you get me some milk?" he asked the nesan.

"What kind of milk?" she inquired.

Perceiving that she knew nothing of our custom of using milk in tea and coffee, he amused himself by replying:

"Whale's milk."

The nesan went downstairs and presently returned to say that there was no whale's milk to be had.

"This inn has been patronized by an Imperial Prince," exclaimed the linguist, affecting astonishment, "yet you have no whale's milk?"

The nesan admitted that such was the case.

"Then," said he, "bring me elephant's milk. I'll try to make it do."

Again she departed.

"The proprietor is very sorry," she reported when she came back, "but he has just run out of elephant's milk."

"Let me see the proprietor." When the latter appeared he was most apologetic. There had been an unprecedented demand for elephant's milk in the last few days, he explained, and his supply had been exhausted. He expected to have some more shortly, but the express was slow.

"Very well," said the linguist, "I suppose I'll have to get along as best I can on bear's milk." Whereupon he opened the "Bear Brand" can and poured some of its contents into his coffee, while the hotel proprietor and the nesan looked on with bulging eyes.

"You ought to be ashamed of yourself," I told him when he had finished the story.

"The joke rebounded on me" he said. "After that I became a personage in the inn, and I had to tip correspondingly when I left-for according to the old custom of the country the size of the tip in a hotel is not in proportion to the service received, but in proportion to the rank of the tipper. And besides, the proprietor was very curious to know how they milked the bears. I had a devil of a time expaining that."

After breakfast we set out on foot for the village of Nabuto, several miles farther along the shore. The road, winding around the rampart hills, was as beautiful as that we had travelled the day before, and as full of interesting figures and intimate glimpses of the life of these amiable industrious fisherfolk.

Nabuto proved to be a tiny settlement at the tip of a rocky promontory, sheltered from direct assaults of the sea by a small, pinnacled island known as Niemon Island because it belongs, and has for eight centuries belonged, to a family of that name, residing there.

An old sea-wife, looking like a figure from one of Winslow Homer's paintings, summoned the ferrymam with a blast upon a conch shell, and a few minutes later we stepped from his skiff to a natural platform of granite at the island's edge. As we landed we were assimilated by a guide who began by indicating certain circular holes in the granite which, he declared, had been made by the hoofs of Yoritomo's horse. For legend has it that, when pursued, this mediæval military hero used Niemon Island as a hiding place. Nor are the horse's hoof-prints the only evidence supporting this tale. One may see the cave in which the great Yoritomo concealed himself.

Thither, by a rough, ascending path, the guide led us. It was a small, damp cave. If Yoritomo lived there long he must have feared his enemies more than he feared rheumatism. Within was a small shrine dedicated to the ancient warrior, and hanging near it was a cord by which a bell could be rung to notify the spirit of the departed that callers had arrived. The guide signified to us that Yoritomo's spirit would be profoundly gratified if we put a few coppers into the box in front of his shrine. Having contributed we were allowed to ring the bell.

The ledge outside commanded a view of leagues and leagues of amethyst sea into which jutted a succession of green bastioned promontories. Below us, at the base of the cliff, where the long swells were crashing in rhythmic succession, several small skiffs were tossing dangerously near the margin of the foam. These, said the guide, were the boats of abalone fishers-for the Niemon family, besides receiving tourists, and selling them trinkets, picture postcards, and flasks of Osaka whiskey, is in the business of canning abalone meat. I have attempted to eat abalone. Considering that it is a mollusc leading an absolutely sedentary life, it has astounding muscular development. A man who can masticate it ought to be able also to masticate the can in which it comes.

Each skiff contained two men; an oarsman and a diver. The former would nurse his light craft close to where the seas were breaking on the island's rocky wall, while the latter, standing and swaying with the rise and fall of the boat, peered eagerly into the blue depths. Then, suddenly, with the swiftness of a thrown knife, the brown body would cut the water and disappear. One waited. One waited long enough to become a little anxious. But when it seemed that human lungs could not have held a breath for such a length of time a head of wet black hair would pop out of the water and the glistening body of the diver would slip over the gunwale with the sinuous ease of a swimming seal. A moment later be would be standing again in the bow of the boat, a figure beautifully poised, gazing with the rapt eyes of a seer into the swaying, streaky mysteries of the under-water world.

Out here the fresh sea breeze wove like a cool woof across the warp of rays from a hot noonday sun. Ashore there was no breeze. I was beginning to dread the baking dusty miles of highway leading back to Kamogawa. Then someone suggested that we sail there, and the linguist sent the guide to see about a boat.

The vessel he secured was a two-masted fishing boat with a brave viking prow and long sleek lines. It was a piratical-looking craft and the appearance of the crew was even more so. They were like the Malay pirates in boys' books of adventure: almost naked, and tanned and weathered to a dark copper colour. Two of them wore short white shirts, open in front and terminating at the waist, but the others were innocent of such sophisticated haberdashey, the entire costume of each consisting of a pair of towels-one at the loins, the other wound around the head.

All too soon they landed us upon the beach at the back of the hotel.

"Now," said the linguist, as we waded up through the deep sand, "we'll pack our bags, get lunch, and be off."

And precisely that we did.

The whole staff of the inn assembled to see us depart. The proprietress gave us little presents. There was much bowing. Then the basha creaked away.