in the Atlantic Monthly
July 1892, Volume 70, Issue 417, pp. 14-33
from Cornell University's
Making of America website
IN A JAPANESE GARDEN.
My little two-story house by the Ōhashigawa, although dainty as a birdcage, proved much too small for comfort, at the approach of the hot season; the rooms being scarcely higher than steamship cabins, and so narrow that an ordinary mosquito-net could not be suspended in them. I was very sorry to lose the beautiful lake view, but I found it necessary to remove to the northern quarter of the city, into a very quiet street behind the mouldering castle. My new home is a katchiû-yashiki, the ancient residence of some samurai of high rank. It is shut off from the street, or rather roadway, skirting the castle moat by a long, high wall coped with tiles. One ascends to the gateway, which is almost as large as that of a temple court, by a low, broad flight of stone steps; and projecting from the wall, to the right of the gate, is a lookout window, heavily barred, like a big wooden cage. Thence, in feudal days, armed retainers kept keen watch on all who passed by, invisible watch, for the bars are set so closely that a face behind them cannot be seen from the roadway. Inside the gate the approach to the dwelling is also walled in on both sides, so that the visitor, unless privileged, could see before him only the house entrance, always closed with white shōji. Like all samurai homes, the residence itself is but one story high, but there are fourteen rooms within, and these are lofty, spacious, and beautiful. There is, alas, no lake view nor any charming prospect. Part of the O-Shiroyama, with the castle on its summit, half concealed by a park of pines, may be seen above the coping of the front wall, but only a part; and scarcely a hundred yards behind the house rise densely wooded heights, cutting off not only the horizon, but a large slice of the sky as well. For this immurement, however, there exists fair compensation in the shape of a very pretty garden, or rather a series of garden spaces, which surround the dwelling on three sides. Broad verandas overlook these, and from a certain veranda angle I can enjoy the sight of two gardens at once. Screens of bamboos and woven rushes, with wide gateless openings in their midst, mark the boundaries of the three divisions of the pleasure-grounds. But these structures are not intended to serve as true fences; they are ornamental, and only indicate where one style of landscape gardening ends and another begins.
Now a few words upon Japanese gardens in general.
After having learned merely by seeing, for the practical knowledge of the art requires years of study and experience, besides a natural, instinctive sense of beauty something about the Japanese manner of arranging flowers, one can thereafter consider European ideas of floral decoration only as vulgarities. This observation is not the result of any hasty enthusiasm, but a conviction settled by long residence in the interior. I have come to understand the unspeakable loveliness of a solitary spray of blossoms arranged as only a Japanese expert knows how to arrange it, not by simply poking the spray into a vase, but by perhaps one whole hour's labor of trimming and posing and daintiest manipulation, and therefore I cannot think now of what we Occidentals call "a bouquet" as anything but a vulgar murdering of flowers, an outrage upon the color-sense, a brutality, an abomination. Somewhat in the same way, and for similar reasons, after having learned what an old Japanese garden is, I can remember our costliest gardens at home only as ignorant displays of what wealth can accomplish in the creation of incongruities that violate nature.
Now, a Japanese garden is not a flower garden; neither is it made for the purpose of cultivating plants. In nine cases out of ten there is nothing in it resembling a flower bed. Some gardens may contain scarcely a sprig of green; some have nothing green at all, and consist entirely of rocks and pebbles and sand, although these are exceptional.1 As a rule, a Japanese garden is a landscape garden, yet its existence does not depend upon any fixed allowance of space. It may cover one acre or many acres. It may also be only ten feet square. It may, in extreme cases, be much less; for a certain kind of Japanese garden can be contrived small enough to put in a tokonoma. Such a garden, in a vessel no larger than a fruit-dish, is called ko-niwa or toko-niwa, and may occasionally be seen in the tokonoma of humble little dwellings so closely squeezed between other structures as to possess no ground in which to cultivate an outdoor garden. (I say "an outdoor garden," because there are indoor gardens in some large Japanese houses.) The toko-niwa is usually made in some curious bowl, or shallow carved box, or quaintly shaped vessel impossible to describe by any English word. Therein are created minuscule hills with minuscule houses upon them, and microscopic ponds and rivulets spanned by tiny humped bridges; and queer wee plants do duty for trees, and curiously formed pebbles stand for rocks, and there are tiny toro, perhaps a tiny torii as well, in short, a charming and living model of a Japanese landscape.
Another fact of prime importance to remember is that, in order to comprehend the beauty of a Japanese garden, it is necessary to understand or at least to learn to understand the beauty of stones. Not of stones quarried by the hand of man, but of stones shaped by nature only. Until you can feel, and keenly feel, that stones have character, that stones have tones and values, the whole artistic meaning of a Japanese garden cannot be revealed to you. In the foreigner, however æsthetic he may be, this feeling needs to be cultivated by study. It is inborn in the Japanese; the soul of the race comprehends Nature infinitely better than we do, at least in her visible forms. But although, being an Occidental, the true sense of the beauty of stones can be reached by you only through long familiarity with the Japanese use and choice of them, the characters of the lesson to be acquired exist everywhere about you, if your life be in the interior. You cannot walk through a street without observing tasks and problems in the æsthetics of stones for you to master. At the approaches to temples, by the side of roads, before holy groves, and in all parks and pleasure-grounds, as well as in all cemeteries, you will notice large, irregular, flat slabs of natural rock, mostly from the river beds and water-worn, sculptured with ideographs, but unhewn. These have been set up as votive tablets, as commemorative monuments, as tombstones, and are much more costly than the ordinary cut-stone columns and haka chiseled with the figures of divinities in relief. Again, you will see before most of the shrines, nay, even in the grounds of nearly all large homesteads, great irregular blocks of granite or other hard rock, worn by the action of torrents, and converted into water-basins (chodzubachi) by cutting a circular hollow in the top. Such are but common examples of the utilization of stones even in the poorest villages; and if you have any natural artistic sentiment, you cannot fail to discover, sooner or later, how much more beautiful are these natural forms than any shapes from the hand of the stone-cutter. It is probable, too, that you will become so habituated at last to the sight of inscriptions cut upon rock surface, especially if you travel much through the country, that you will often find yourself involuntarily looking for texts or other chiselings where there are none, and could not possibly be, as if ideographs belonged by natural law to rock formation. And stones will begin, perhaps, to assume for you a certain individual or physiognomical aspect, to suggest moods and sensations, as they do to the Japanese. Indeed, Japan is particularly a land of suggestive shapes in stone, as high volcanic lands are apt to be; and such shapes doubtless addressed themselves to the imagination of the race at a time long prior to the date of that archaic text which tells of demons in Izumo "who made rocks, and the roots of trees, and leaves, and the foam of the green waters to speak."
As might be expected in a country where the suggestiveness of natural forms is thus recognized, there are in Japan many curious beliefs and superstitions concerning stones. In almost every province there are famous stones supposed to be sacred or haunted, or to possess miraculous powers, such as the Women's Stone at the temple of Hachiman at Kamakura, and the Sesshō-seki, or Death Stone of Nasu, and the Wealth-giving Stone at Enoshima, to which pilgrims pay reverence. There are even legends of stones having manifested sensibility, like the tradition of the Nodding Stones which bowed down before the monk Daita when he preached unto them the word of Buddha; or the ancient story from the Kojîki, that the Emperor Ō-Jin, being augustly intoxicated, "smote with his august staff a great stone in the middle of the Ohosaka road, whereupon the stone ran away"!2
Now, stones are valued for their beauty; and large stones, selected for their shape, may have an æsthetic worth of hundreds of dollars. And large stones form the skeleton, or framework, in the design of old Japanese gardens. Not only is every stone chosen with a view to its particular expressiveness of form, but every stone in the garden or about the premises has its separate and individual name, indicating its purpose or its decorative duty. But I can tell you only a little, a very little, of the folk lore of a Japanese garden; and if you want to know more about stones and their names, and about the philosophy of gardens, read the unique essay of Mr. Conder on the Art of Landscape Gardening in Japan, and his beautiful book on the Japanese Art of Floral Decoration; and also the brief but charming chapter on Gardens, in Morse's Japanese Homes.3
No effort to create an impossible or purely ideal landscape is made in the Japanese garden. Its artistic purpose is to copy faithfully the attractions of a veritable landscape, and to convey the real impression that a real landscape communicates. It is therefore at once a picture and a poem; perhaps even more a poem than a picture. For as nature's scenery, in its varying aspects, affects us with sensations of joy or of solemnity, of grimness or of sweetness, of force or of peace, so must the true reflection of it in the labor of the landscape gardener create not merely an impression of beauty, but a mood in the soul. The grand old landscape gardeners, those Buddhist monks who first introduced the art into Japan, and subsequently developed it into an almost occult science, carried their theory yet further than this. They held it possible to express moral lessons in the design of a garden, and abstract ideas, such as chastity, faith, piety, content, calm, and connubial bliss. Therefore were gardens contrived according to the character of the owner, whether poet, warrior, philosopher, or priest. In those ancient gardens (the art, alas, is passing away under the withering influence of the utterly commonplace Western taste) there were expressed both a mood of nature and some rare Oriental conception of a mood of man.
I do not know what human sentiment the principal division of my garden was intended to reflect; and there is none to tell me. Those by whom it was made passed away long generations ago, in the eternal transmigration of souls. But as a poem of nature it requires no interpreter. It occupies the front portion of the grounds, facing south; and it also extends west to the verge of the northern division of the garden, from which it is partly separated by a curious screen-fence structure. There are large rocks in it, heavily mossed; and divers fantastic basins of stone for holding water; and stone lamps green with years; and a shachi-hoko, such as one sees at the peaked angles of castle roofs, a great stone fish, an idealized porpoise, with its nose in the ground and its tail in the air.4 There are miniature hills, with old trees upon them; and there are long slopes of green, shadowed by flowering shrubs, like river banks; and there are green knolls like islets. All these verdant elevations rise from spaces of pale yellow sand, smooth as a surface of silk, and miming the curves and meanderings of a river course. These sanded spaces are not to be trodden upon; they are much too beautiful for that. The least speck of dirt would mar their effect; and it requires the trained skill of an experienced native gardener a delightful old man he is to keep them in perfect form. But they are traversed in various directions by lines of flat unhewn rock slabs, placed at slightly irregular distances from one another, exactly like stepping-stones across a brook. The whole effect is that of the shores of a still stream in some lovely, lonesome, drowsy place.
There is nothing to break the illusion, so secluded the garden is. High walls and fences shut out streets and contiguous things; and the shrubs and the trees, heightening and thickening toward the boundaries, conceal from view even the roofs of the neighboring katchiû-yashiki. Softly beautiful are the tremulous shadows of leaves on the sunned sand, and the scent of flowers comes thinly sweet with every waft of tepid air, and there is a humming of bees.
By Buddhism all existences are divided into hijō, things without desire, such as stones and trees; and ujō, things having desire, such as men and animals. This division does not, so far as I know, find expression in the written philosophy of gardens; but it is a convenient one. The folk lore of my little domain relates both to the inanimate and the animate. In natural order, the hijō may be considered first, beginning with a singular shrub near the entrance of the yashiki, and close to the gate of the first garden.
Within the front gateway of almost every old samurai house, and usually near the entrance of the dwelling itself, there is to be seen a small tree with large and peculiar leaves. The name of this tree in Izumo is tegashiwa, and there is one beside my door. What the scientific name of it is I do not know; nor am I quite sure of the etymology of the Japanese name. However, there is a word tegashi, meaning a bond for the hands; and the shape of the leaves of the tegashiwa somewhat resembles the shape of a hand.
Now, in old days, when the samurai retainer was obliged to leave his home in order to accompany his daimyō to Yedo, it was customary, just before his departure, to set before him a baked tai5 served up on a tegashiwa leaf. After this farewell repast, the leaf upon which the tai had been served was hung up above the door, as a charm to bring the departed knight safely back again. This pretty superstition about the leaves of the tegashiwa had its origin not only in their shape, but in their movement. Stirred by a wind, they seem to beckon, not indeed after our Occidental manner, but in the way that a Japanese signs to his friend to come, by gently waving his hand up and down, with the palm towards the ground.
Another shrub to be found in most Japanese gardens is the nanten,6 about which a very curious belief exists. If you have an evil dream, a dream which bodes ill luck, you should whisper it to the nanten early in the morning, and then it will never come true.7 There are two varieties of this graceful plant: one which bears red berries, and one which bears white. The latter is rare. Both kinds grow in my garden. The common variety is placed close to the veranda (perhaps for the convenience of dreamers); the other occupies a little flower bed in the middle of the garden, together with a small citron-tree. This most dainty citron-tree is called "Buddha's fingers,"8 because of the wonderful shape of its fragrant blossoms. Near it stands a kind of laurel, with lanciform leaves glossy as bronze; it is called by the Japanese yuzuru-ha,9 and is almost as common in the gardens of old samurai homes as the tegashiwa itself. It is held to be a tree of good omen, because no one of its old leaves ever falls off before a new one, growing behind it, has well developed. For thus the yuzuru-ha symbolizes hope that the father will not pass away before his son has become a vigorous man, well able to succeed him as the head of the family. Therefore, on every New Year's Day the leaves of the yuzuru-ha, mingled with fronds of fern, are attached to the shimenawa which is then suspended before every Izumo home.
The trees, like the shrubs, have their curious poetry and legends. Like the stones, each tree has its special landscape name, according to its position and purpose in the composition. Just as rocks and stones form the skeleton of the ground-plan of a garden, so pines form the framework of its foliage design. They give body to the whole. In this garden there are five pines, not pines tormented into fantasticalities, but pines made wondrously picturesque by long and tireless care and judicious trimming. The object of the gardener has been to develop to the utmost possible degree their natural tendency to rugged line and massings of foliage, that spiny sombre-green foliage which Japanese art is never weary of imitating in metal inlay or golden lacquer. The pine is a symbolic tree, in this land of symbolism. Ever green, it is at once the emblem of unflinching purpose and of vigorous old age; and its needle-shaped leaves are credited with the power of driving demons away.
There are two sakuranoki,10 Japanese cherry-trees, those trees whose blossoms, as Professor Chamberlain so justly observes, are "beyond comparison more lovely than anything Europe has to show." Many varieties are cultivated and loved; those in my garden bear blossoms of the most ethereal pink, a flushed white. When, in spring, the trees flower, it is as though fleeciest masses of cloud faintly tinged by sunset had floated down from the highest sky to fold themselves about the branches. This comparison is no poet- ical exaggeration; neither is it original; it is an ancient Japanese description of the most marvelous floral exhibition which nature is capable of making. The reader who has never seen a cherry-tree blossoming in Japan cannot possibly imagine the delight of the spectacle. There are no green leaves; these come later: there is only one glorious burst of blossoms, veiling every twig and bough in their delicate mist; and the soil beneath each tree is covered deep out of sight by fallen petals as by a drift of pink snow.
But these are cultivated cherry-trees. There are others which put forth their leaves before their blossoms, such as the yamazakura, or mountain cherry.11 This too, however, has its poetry of beauty and of symbolism. Sang the great Shintō writer and poet, Motowori :
Whether cultivated or uncultivated, the Japanese cherry-trees are emblems. Those planted in old samurai gardens were not cherished for their loveliness alone. Their spotless blossoms were regarded as symbolizing that delicacy of sentiment and blamelessness of life belonging to high courtesy and true knightliness. "As the cherry flower is first among flowers," says an old proverb, "so should the warrior be first among men."
Shadowing the western end of this garden, and projecting its smooth dark limbs above the awning of the veranda, is a superb umenoki, Japanese plum-tree, very old, and originally planted here, no doubt, as in other gardens, for the sake of the sight of its blossoming. The flowering of the umenoki,13 in the earliest spring, is scarcely less astonishing than that of the cherry-tree, which does not bloom for a full month later; and the blossoming of both is celebrated by popular holidays. Nor are these, although the most famed, the only flowers thus loved. The wistaria, the convolvulus, the peony, each in its season, form displays of effiorescence lovely enough to draw whole populations out of the city into the country to see them. In Izumo, the blossoming of the peony is especially marvelous. The most famous place for this spectacle is the little island of Daikonshima, in the grand Naka-umi lagoon, about an hour's sail from Matsue. In May the whole island flames crimson with peonies; and even the boys and girls of the public schools are given a holiday, in order that they may enjoy the sight.
Though the plum flower is certainly a rival in beauty of the sakura-no-hana, the Japanese compare woman's beauty physical beauty to the cherry flower, never to the plum flower. But womanly virtue and sweetness, on the other hand, are compared to the ume-no-hana, never to the cherry blossom. It is a great mistake to affirm, as some writers have done, that the Japanese never think of comparing a woman to trees and flowers. For grace, a maiden is likened to the slender willow;14 for youthful charm, to the cherry-tree in flower; for sweetness of heart, to the blossoming plum-tree. Nay, the old Japanese poets have compared woman to all beautiful things. They have even sought similes from flowers for her various poses, for her movements, as in the verse
Why, even the names of the humblest country girls are often those of beautiful trees or flowers prefixed by the honorific O:18 O-Matsu (Pine), O-Také (Bamboo), O-Umé (Plum), O-Hana (Blossom), O-Iné (Ear-of-Young-Rice), not to speak of the professional flower-names of dancing-girls and of jōrōs. It has been argued with considerable force that the origin of certain tree-names borne by girls must be sought in the folk-conception of the tree as an emblem of longevity, or happiness, or good fortune, rather than in any popular idea of the beauty of the tree in itself. But however this may be, proverb, poem, song, and popular speech to-day yield ample proof that the Japanese comparisons of women to trees and flowers are in no wise inferior to our own in æsthetic sentiment.
That trees, at least Japanese trees, have souls cannot seem an unnatural fancy to one who has seen the blossoming.of the umenoki and the sakuranoki. This is a popular belief in Izumo and elsewhere. It is not in accord with Buddhist philosophy, and yet in a certain sense it strikes one as being much closer to cosmic truth than the old Western orthodox notion of trees as "things created for the use of man." Furthermore, there exist several odd superstitions about particular trees, not unlike certain West Indian beliefs, which have had a good influence in checking the destruction of valuable timber. Japan, like the tropical world, has its goblin trees. Of these, the enoki (Celtis Willdenowiana) and the yanagi (drooping willow) are deemed especially ghostly, and are rarely now to be found in old Japanese gardens. Both are believed to have the power of haunting. "Enoki ga bakeru," the Izumo saying is. You will find in a Japanese dictionary the word "bakeru" translated by such terms as "to be transformed," "to be metamorphosed," "to be changed," etc.; but the belief about these trees is very singular, and cannot be explained by any such rendering of the verb "bakeru." The tree itself does not change form or place, but a spectre called Ki-no-o-bake disengages itself from the tree and walks about in various guises.19 Most often the shape assumed by the phantom is that of a beautiful woman. The tree spectre seldom speaks, and seldom ventures to go very far away from its tree. If approached, it immediately shrinks back into the trunk or the foliage. It is said that if either an old yanagi or a young enoki be cut blood will flow from the gash. When such trees are very young, it is not believed that they have supernatural habits, but they become more dangerous the older they grow.
There is a rather pretty legend recalling the old Greek dream of dryads about a willow-tree which grew in the garden of a samurai of Kyōtō. Owing to its weird reputation, the tenant of the homestead desired to cut it down; but another samurai dissuaded him, saying: "Rather sell it to me, that I may plant it in my garden. That tree has a soul; it were cruel to destroy its life." Thus purchased and transplanted, the yanagi flourished well in its new home, and its spirit, out of gratitude, took the form of a beautiful woman, and became the wife of the samurai who had befriended it. A charming boy was the result of this union. A few years later, the daimyō to whom the ground belonged gave orders that the tree should be cut down. Then the wife wept bitterly, and for the first time revealed to her husband the whole story. "And now, she added, "I know that I must die; but our child will live, and you will always love him. This thought is my only solace." Vainly the astonished and terrified husband sought to retain her. Bidding him farewell forever, she vanished into the tree. Needless to say that the samurai did everything in his power to persuade the daimyō to forego his purpose. The prince wanted the tree for the reparation of a great Buddhist temple, the San-jin-san-gen-do.20 The tree was felled, but, having fallen, it suddenly became so heavy that three hundred men could not move it. Then the child, taking a branch in his little hand, said, "Come," and the tree followed him, gliding along the ground to the court of the temple.
Although said to be a bakemono-ki, the enoki sometimes receives highest religious honors; for the spirit of the god Kojin, to whom old dolls are dedicated, is supposed to dwell within certain very ancient enoki trees, and before these are placed shrines whereat people make prayers.
The second garden, on the north side, is my favorite. It contains mo large growths. It is paved with blue pebbles, and its centre is occupied by a pondlet, a miniature lake fringed with rare plants, and containing a tiny island, with tiny mountains and dwarf peach-trees and pines and azaleas, some of which are perhaps more than a century old, though scarcely more than a foot high. Nevertheless, this work, seen as it was intended to be seen, does not appear to the eye in miniature at all. From a certain angle of the guest-room looking out upon it, the appearance is that of a real lake shore with a real island beyond it, a stone's throw away. So cunning the art of the ancient gardener who contrived all this, aud who has been sleeping for a hundred years under the cedars of Gesshoji, that the illusion can be detected only from the zashiki by the presence of an ishidōrō, or stone lamp, upon the island. The size of the ishidōrō betrays the false perspective, and I do not think it was placed there when the garden was made.
Here and there at the edge of the pond, and almost level with the water, are placed large flat stones, on which one may either stand or squat, to watch the lacustrine population or to tend the water-plants. There are beautiful water-lilies, whose bright green leaf-disks float oilily upon the surface (Nuphar Japonica), and many lotus plants of two kinds, those which bear pink and those which bear pure white flowers. There are iris plants growing along the bank, whose blossoms are prismatic violet, and there are various ornamental grasses and ferns and mosses. But the pond is essentially a lotus pond; the lotus plants make its greatest charm. It is a delight to watch every phase of their marvelous growth, from the first unrolling of the leaf to the fall of the last flower. On rainy days, especially, the lotus plants are worth observing. Their great cup-shaped leaves, swaying high above the pond, catch the rain and hold it awhile; but always after the water in the leaf reaches a certain level the stem bends, and empties the leaf with a loud plash, and then straightens again. Rain-water upon a lotus leaf is a favorite subject with Japanese metal-workers, and metal-work only can reproduce the effect, for the motion and color of water moving upon the green oleaginous surface are exactly those of quicksilver.
The third garden, which is very large, extends beyond the inclosure containing the lotus pond to the foot of the wooded hills which form the northern and northeastern boundary of this old samurai quarter. Formerly all this broad level space was occupied by a bamboo grove; but it is now little more than a waste of grasses and wild flowers. In the northeast corner there is a magnificent well, from which ice-cold water is brought into the house through a most ingenious little aqueduct of bamboo pipes; and in the northwestern end, veiled by tall weeds, there stands a very small stone shrine of Inari, with two proportionately small stone foxes sitting before it. Shrine and images are chipped and broken, and thickly patched with dark green moss. But on the east side of the house one little square of soil belonging to this large division of the garden is still cultivated. It is devoted entirely to chrysanthemum plants, which are shielded from heavy rain and strong sun by slanting frames of light wood fashioned like shōji, with panes of white paper, and supported like awnings upon thin posts of bamboo. I can venture to add nothing to what has already been written about these marvelous products of Japanese floriculture considered in themselves; but there is a little story relating to chrysanthemums which I may presume to tell.
There is one place in Japan where it is thought unlucky to cultivate chrysanthemums, for reasons which shall presently appear; and that place is in the pretty little city of Himeji, in the province of Harima. Himeji contains the ruins of a great castle of thirty turrets; and a daimyō used to dwell therein whose revenue was one hundred and fifty-six thousand koku of rice. Now, in the house of one of that daimyō's chief retainers there was a maid-servant, of good family, whose name was O-Kiku; and the name "Kiku" signifies a chrysanthemum flower. Many precious things were entrusted to her charge, and among others ten costly dishes of gold. One of these was suddenly missed, and could not be found; and the girl, being responsible therefor, and knowing not how otherwise to prove her innocence, drowned herself in a well. But ever thereafter her ghost, returning nightly, could be heard counting the dishes slowly, with sobs:
Then would be heard a despairing cry and a loud burst of weeping; and again the girl's voice counting the dishes plaintively: "One two three four five six seven eight nine"
Her spirit passed into the body of a strange little insect, whose head faintly resembles that of a ghost with long disheveled hair; and it is called O-Kiku-mushi, or "the fly of O-Kiku;" and it is found, they say, nowhere save in Himeji. A famous play was written about O-Kiku, which is still acted in all the popular theatres, entitled Banshu-O-Kiku-no-Sarayashiki; or, The Manor of the Dish of O-Kiku of Banshu.
Some declare that Banshu is only the corruption of the name of an ancient quarter of Tōkyō (Yedo), where the story should have been laid. But the people of Himeji say that part of their city now called Go-Ken-Yashiki is identical with the site of the ancient manor. What is certainly true is that to cultivate chrysanthemum flowers in the part of Himeji called Go-Ken-Yashiki is deemed unlucky, because the name of O-Kiku signifies "Chrysanthemum." Therefore, nobody, I am told, ever cultivates chrysanthemums there.
Now of the ujō, or things having desire, which inhabit these gardens.
There are four species of frogs: three that dwell in the lotus pond, and one that lives in the trees. The tree frog is a very pretty little creature, exquisitely green; it has a shrill cry, almost like the note of a semi; and it is called amagaeru, or "the rain frog," because, like its kindred in other countries, its croaking is an omen of rain. The pond frogs are called babagaeru, shinagaeru, and tono-san-gaeru. Of these, the first-named variety is the largest and the ugliest: its color is very disagreeable, and its full name ("babagaeru" being a decent abbreviation) is quite as offensive as its hue. The shinagaeru, or "striped frog," is not handsome, except by comparison with the previously mentioned creature. But the tono-san-gaeru, so called after a famed daimyō who left behind him a memory of great splendor, is beautiful: its color is a fine bronze-red.
Besides these varieties of frogs there lives in the garden a huge uncouth goggle-eyed thing which, although called here hikigaeru, I take to be a toad. "Hiki-gaeru" is the term ordinarily used for a bullfrog. This creature enters the house almost daily, to be fed, and seems to have no fear even of strangers. My people consider it a luck-bringing visitor; and it is credited with the power of drawing all the mosquitoes out of a room into its mouth by simply sucking its breath in. Much as it is cherished by gardeners and others, there is a legend about a goblin toad of old times, which, by thus sucking in its breath, drew into its mouth, not insects, but men.
The pond is inhabited also by many small fish; imori, or newts, with bright red bellies; and multitudes of little water-beetles, called maimaimushi, which pass their whole time in gyrating upon the surface of the water so rapidly that it is almost impossible to distinguish their shape clearly. A man who runs about aimlessly to and fro, under the influence of excitement, is compared to a maimai-mushi. And there are some beautiful snails, with yellow stripes on their shells. Japanese children have a charm-song which is supposed to have power to make the snail put out its horns:
The playground of the children of the better classes has always been the family garden, as that of the children of the poor is the temple court. It is in the garden that the little ones first learn something of the wonderful life of plants, and the marvels of the insect world; and there, also, they are first taught those pretty legends and songs about birds and flowers which form so charming a part of Japanese folk lore. As the home training of the child is left mostly to the mother, lessons of kindness to animals are early inculcated; and the results are strongly marked in after life. It is true, Japanese children are not entirely free from that unconscious tendency to cruelty characteristic of children in all countries, as a survival of primitive instincts. But in this regard the great moral difference between the sexes is strongly marked from the earliest years. The tenderness of the woman-soul appears even in the child. Little Japanese girls who play with insects or small animals rarely hurt them, and generally set them free after they have afforded a reasonable amount of amusement. Little boys are not nearly so good, when out of sight of parents or guardians. But if seen doing anything cruel, a child is made to feel ashamed of the act, and hears the Buddhist warning, "Thy future birth will be unhappy, if thou doest cruel things."
Somewhere among the rocks in the pond lives a small tortoise, left in the garden, probably, by the previous tenants of the house. It is very pretty, but manages to remain invisible for weeks at a time. In popular mythology, the tortoise is the servant of the divinity Kompira;23 and if a pious fisherman find a tortoise, he writes upon its back characters signifying "Servant of the Deity Kompira," and then gives it a drink of saké and sets it free. It is supposed to be very fond of saké.
Some say that the land tortoise, or "stone tortoise," only is the servant of Kompira, and the sea tortoise, or turtle, the servant of the Dragon Empire beneath the sea. The turtle is said to have the power to create, with its breath, a cloud, a fog, or a magnificent palace. It figures in the beautiful old folk tale of Urashima.24 All tortoises are supposed to live for a thousand years, wherefore one of the most frequent symbols of longevity in Japanese art is a tortoise. But the tortoise most commonly represented by native painters and metal-workers has a peculiar tail, or rather a multitude of small tails, extending behind it like the fringes of a straw rain coat, mino, whence it is called minogamé. Now, some of the tortoises kept in the sacred tanks of Buddhist temples attain a prodigious age, and certain water-plants attach themselves to the creatures' shells and stream behind them when they walk. The myth of the minogamé is supposed to have had its origin in old artistic efforts to represent the appearance of such tortoises with confervæ fastened upon their shells.
Early in summer the frogs are surprisingly numerous, and, after dark, are noisy beyond description; but week by week their nightly clamor grows feebler, as their numbers diminish under the attacks of many enemies. A large family of snakes, some fully three feet long, make occasional inroads into the colony. The victims often utter piteous cries, which are promptly responded to, whenever possible, by some inmate of the house, and many a frog has been saved by my servant-girl, who, by a gentle tap with a bamboo rod, compels the snake to let its prey go. These snakes are beautiful swimmers. They make themselves quite free about the garden; but they come out only on hot days. None of my people would think of injuring or killing one of them. Indeed, in Izumo it is said that to kill a snake is unlucky. "If you kill a snake without provocation," a peasant assured me, "you will afterwards find its head in the komebitsu [the box in which cooked rice is kept] when you take off the lid."
But the snakes devour comparatively few frogs. Impudent kites and crows are their most implacable destroyers; and there is a very pretty weasel which lives under the kura (godown), and which does not hesitate to take either fish or frogs out of the pond, even when the lord of the manor is watching. There is also a cat which poaches in my preserves, a gaunt outlaw, a master thief, which I have made sundry vain attempts to reclaim from vagabondage. Partly because of the immorality of this cat, and partly because it happens to have a long tail, it has the evil reputation of being a nekomata, or goblin cat.
It is true that in Izumo some kittens are born with long tails; but it is very seldom that they are suffered to grow up with long tails. For the natural tendency of cats is to become goblins; and this tendency to metamorphosis can be checked only by cutting off their tails in kittenhood. Cats are magicians, tails or no tails, and have the power of making corpses dance. Cats are ungrateful. "Feed a dog for three days," says a Japanese proverb, "and he will remember your kindness for three years; feed a cat for three years, and she will forget your kindness in three days." Cats are mischievous: they tear the mattings, and make holes in the shōji, and sharpen their claws upon the pillars of tokonoma. Cats are under a curse: only the cat and the venomous serpent wept not at the death of Buddha; and these shall never enter into the bliss of the Gokuraku. For all these reasons, and others too numerous to relate, cats are not much loved in Izumo, and are compelled to pass the greater part of their lives out of doors.
Not less than eleven varieties of butterflies have visited the neighborhood of the lotus pond within the past few days. The most common variety is snowy white. It is supposed to be especially attracted by the na, or rapeseed plant; and when little girls see it, they sing:
But the most interesting insects are certainly the semi (cicadæ). These Japanese tree crickets are much more extraordinary singers than even the wonderful cicadæ of the tropics; and they are much less tiresome, for there is a different species of semi, with a totally different song, for almost every month during the whole warm season. There are, I believe, seven kinds; but I have become familiar with only four. The first to be heard in my trees is the natsuzemi, or summer semi: it makes a sound like the Japanese monosyllable ji, beginning wheezily, slowly swelling into a crescendo shrill as the blowing of steam, and dying away in another wheeze. This j-i-i-iiiiiiiiii is so deafening that when two or three natsuzemi come close to the window I am obliged to make them go away. Happily, the natsuzemi is soon succeeded by the minminzemi, a much finer musician, whose name is derived from its wonderful note. It is said "to chant like a Buddhist priest reciting the kyō" and certainly, upon hearing it the first time, one can scarcely believe that one is listening to a mere cicada. The minminzemi is followed, early in autumn, by a beautiful green semi, the higurashi, which makes a singularly clear sound, like the rapid ringing of a small bell, kana-kana-kana-kana-kana. But the most astonishing visitor of all comes still later, the tsuku-tsuku-bōshi.26 I fancy this creature can have no rival in the whole world of cicadæ: its music is exactly like the song of a bird. Its name, like that of the minminzemi, is onomatopoetic; but in Izumo the sounds of its chant are given thus:
However, the semi are not the only musicians of the garden. Two remarkable creatures aid their orchestra. The first is a beautiful bright green grasshopper, known to the Japanese by the curious name of hotoke-no-uma, or "the horse of the dead." This insect's head really bears some resemblance in shape to the head of a horse, hence the fancy. It is a queerly familiar creature, allowing itself to be taken in the hand without struggling, and generally making itself quite at home in the house, which it often enters. It makes a very thin sound, which the Japanese write as a repetition of the syllables jun-ta; and the name junta is sometimes given to the grasshopper itself. The other insect is also a green grasshopper, somewhat larger, and much shyer: it is called gisu,28 on account of its chant :
Several lovely species of dragon-flies (tombo) hover about the pondlet on hot, bright days. One variety the most beautiful creature of the kind I ever saw, gleaming with metallic colors indescribable, and spectrally slender is called tenshi-tombo, "the emperor's dragon-fly." There is another, the largest of Japanese dragon-flies, but somewhat rare, which is much sought after by children as a plaything. Of this species it is said that there are many more males than females; and what I can vouch for as true is that, if you catch a female, the male can be almost immediately attracted by exposing the captive. Boys, accordingly, try to secure a female, and when one is captured they tie it with a thread to some branch, and sing a curious little song, of which these are the original words:
Which signifies, "Thou, the male, King of Korea, dost thou not feel shame to flee away from the Queen of the East?" (This taunt is an allusion to the story of the conquest of Korea by the Empress Jin-gō.) And the male comes invariably, and is also caught. In Izumo the first seven words of the original song have been corrupted into "konna unjo korai abura no mito;" and the name of the male dragon-fly, unjo, and that of the female, mito, are derived from two words of the corrupted version.
Of warm nights all sorts of unbidden guests invade the house in multitudes. Two varieties of mosquitoes do their utmost to make life unpleasant, and these have learned the wisdom of not approaching a lamp too closely; but hosts of curious and harmless things cannot be prevented from seeking their death in the flame. The most numerous victims of all, which come thick as a shower of rain, are called Sanemori. At least they are so called in Izumo, where they do much damage to growing rice. Now the name Sanemori is an illustrious one, that of a famous warrior of old times, belonging to the Genji clan. There is a legend that while he was fighting with an enemy on horseback his own steed slipped and fell in a ricefleld, and he was consequently overpowered and slain by his antagonist. He became a rice-devouring insect; which is still respectfully called by the peasantry of Izumo Sanemori San. They light fires, on certain summer nights, in the ricefields, to attract the insect, and beat gongs and sound bamboo flutes, chanting the while, "O Sanemori, augustly deign to come hither!" A kammshi performs a religious rite, and a straw figure representing a horse and rider is then either burned or thrown into a neighboring river or canal. By this ceremony it is believed that the fields are cleared of the insect.
This tiny creature is almost exactly the size and color of a rice-husk. The legend concerning it may have arisen from the fact that its body, together with the wings, bears some resemblance to the helmet of a Japanese warrior.30
Next in number among the victims of fire are the moths, some of which are very strange and beautiful. The most remarkable is an enormous creature popularly called okori-chōchō, or the "ague moth," because there is a superstitious belief that it brings intermittent fever into any house it enters. It has a body quite as heavy and almost as powerful as that of the largest humming-bird, and its struggles, when caught in the hand, surprise by their force. It makes a very loud whirring sound while flying. The wings of one which I examined measured, outspread, five inches from tip to tip, yet seemed small in proportion to the heavy body. They were richly mottled with dusky browns and silver grays of various tones.
Many flying night-comers, however, avoid the lamp. Most fantastic of all visitors is the tōrō or kamakiri, called in Izumo kamakaké, a bright green praying mantis, extremely feared by children for its capacity to bite. It is very large. I have seen specimens over six inches long. The eyes of the kamakaké are a brilliant black at night, but by day they appear grass-colored, like the rest of the body. The mantis is very intelligent and surprisingly aggressive. I saw one attacked by a vigorous frog easily put its enemy to flight. It fell a prey subsequently to other inhabitants of the pond, but it required the combined efforts of several frogs to vanquish the monstrous insect, and even then the battle was decided only when the kamakaké had been dragged into the water.
Other visitors are beetles of divers colors, and a sort of small roach called goki-kaburi, signifying "one whose head is covered with a bowl." It is alleged that the goki-kaburi likes to eat human eyes, and is therefore the abhorred enemy of Ichibata-Sama, Yakushi Nyōrai of Ichibata, by whom diseases of the eye are healed. To kill the goki-kaburi is consequently thought to be a meritorious act in the sight of this Buddha. Always welcome are the beautiful fireflies (hotaru), which enter quite noiselessly, and at once seek the darkest place in the house, slow-glimmering, like sparks moved by a gentle wind. They are supposed to be very fond of water; wherefore children sing to them this little song:
A pretty gray lizard, quite different from some which usually haunt the garden, also makes its appearance at night, and pursues its prey along the ceiling. Sometimes an extraordinarily large centipede attempts the same thing, but with less success, and has to be seized with a pair of fire-tongs and thrown into the exterior darkness. Very rarely, an enormous spider appears. This creature seems inoffensive. If captured, it will feign death until certain that it is not watched, when it will run away with surprising swiftness, if it gets a chance. It is hairless, and very different from the tarantula, or fukurogumo. It is called miyamagumo, or mountain spider. There are four other kinds of spiders common in this neighborhood: tenagakumo, or "long-armed spider;" hiratakumo, or "flat spider;" jikumo, or "earth spider;" and totatekumo, or "door-shutting spider." Most spiders are considered evil beings. A spider seen anywhere at night, the people say, should be killed; for all spiders that show themselves after dark are goblins. While people are awake and watchful, such creatures make themselves small; but when everybody is fast asleep, then they assume their true goblin shape and become monstrous.
The high wood of the hill behind the garden is full of bird life. There dwell wild uguisu, owls, wild doves, too many crows, and a queer bird that makes weird noises at night, long, deep sounds of hoo, hoo. It is called awamakidori, or the "millet-sowing bird," because, when the farmers hear its cry, they know that it is time to plant the millet. It is quite small and brown, extremely shy, and, so far as I can learn, altogether nocturnal in its habits.
But rarely, very rarely, a far stranger cry is heard in those trees at night, a voice as of one crying in pain the syllables "ho-to-to-gi-su." The cry and the name of that which utters it are one and the same, hototogisu.
It is a bird of which weird things are told; for they say it is not really a creature of this living world, but a night wanderer from the Land of Darkness. In the Meido its dwelling is, among those sunless mountains of Shide over which all souls must pass to reach the place of judgment. Once in each year it comes; the time of its coming is the end of the fifth month, by the antique counting of moons; and the peasants, hearing its voice, say one to the other, "Now must we sow the rice; for the Shide-no-taosa is with us." The word taosa signifies the head man of a mura, or village, as villages were governed in the old days; but why the hototogisu is called the taosa of Shide I do not know. Perhaps it is deemed to be a soul from some shadowy hamlet of the Shide hills, whereat the ghosts are wont to rest on their weary way to the realm of Emma, the King of Death.
Its cry has been interpreted in various ways. Some declare that the hototogisu does not really repeat its own name, but asks, "Honzon kaketaka?" (Has the honzon32 been suspended?) Others, resting their interpretation upon the wisdom of the Chinese, aver that the bird's speech signifies, "Surely it is better to return home." This, at least, is true: that all who journey far from their native place, and hear the voice of the hototogisu in other distant provinces, are seized with the sickness of longing for home.
Only at night, the people say, is its voice heard, and most often upon the nights of great moons; and it chants while hovering high out of sight, wherefore a poet has sung of it thus:
And another has written:
The dweller in cities may pass a lifetime without hearing the hototogisu. Caged, the little creature will remain silent and die. Poets often wait vainly in the dew, from sunset till dawn, to hear the strange cry which has inspired so many exquisite verses. But those who have heard found it so mournful that they have likened it to the cry of one wounded suddenly to death.
Concerning Izumo owls, I shall content myself with citing a composition by one of my Japanese students: "The Owl is a hateful bird that sees in the dark. Little children who cry are frightened by the threat that the Owl will come to take them away; for the Owl cries, 'Ho! ho! sorōtto kōka! sorōtto kōka!' which means, 'Thou! must I enter slowly!' It also cries, 'Noritsuke hose! ho! ho!' which means, 'Do thou make the starch to use in washing to-morrow!' And when the women hear that cry, they know that to-morrow will be a fine day. It also cries, 'Tototo,' 'The man dies,' and 'Kotokōkko,' 'The boy dies.' So people hate it. And crows hate it so much that it is used to catch crows. The Farmer puts an Owl in the ricefield; and all the crows come to kill it, and they get, caught fast in snares. This should teach us not to give way to our dislikes for other people."
The kites, which hover over the city all day, do not live in the neighborhood. Their nests are far away upon the blue peaks; but they pass much of their time in catching fish, and in stealing from back yards. They pay the wood and the garden swift and sudden piratical visits; and their sinister cry pi-yoroyoro, pi-yoroyoro sounds at intervals over the town from dawn till sundown. Most insolent of all feathered creatures they certainly are, more insolent than even their fellow-robbers, the crows. A kite will drop five miles to filch a tai out of a fish-seller's bucket, or a fried cake out of a child's hand, and shoot back to the clouds before the victim of the theft has time to stoop for a stone. Hence the saying, "to look as surprised as if one's aburage36 had been snatched from one's hand by a kite." There is, moreover, no telling what a kite may think proper to steal. For example, my neighbor's servant-girl went to the river the other day, wearing in her hair a string of small scarlet beads made of rice-grains prepared and dyed in a certain ingenious way. A kite lighted upon her head, and tore away and swallowed the string of beads. But it is great fun to feed these birds with dead rats or mice which have been caught in traps over night, and subsequently drowned. The instant a dead rat is exposed to view a kite pounces from the sky to bear it away. Sometimes a crow may get the start of the kite, but the crow must be able to get to the woods very swiftly indeed in order to keep his prize. Children sing this song:
The mention of dancing refers to the beautiful balancing motion of the kite's wings in flight. By suggestion this motion is poetically compared to the graceful swaying of a maiko, or dancing-girl, extending her arms and waving the long wide sleeves of her silken robe. Although there is a numerous sub-colony of crows in the wood behind my house, the headquarters of the corvine army are in the pine grove of the ancient castle grounds, visible from my front rooms. To see the crows all flying home at the same hour every evening is an interesting spectacle, and popular imagination has found an amusing comparison for it in the hurry-skurry of people running to a fire. This explains the meaning of a song which children sing to the crows returning to their nests:
Confucianism seems to have discovered virtue in the crow. There is a Japanese proverb, "Karasu ni hampo no ko ari," meaning that the crow performs the filial duty of hampo, or, more literally, "the filial duty of hampo exists in the crow." "Hampo" means, literally, "to return a feeding." The young crow is said to requite its parents' care by feeding them when it becomes strong. Another example of filial piety has been furnished by the dove. "Hato ni sanshi no rei ari," the dove sits three branches below its parent; or, more literally, "has the three-branch etiquette to perform."
The cry of the wild dove (yamabato), which I hear almost daily from the wood, is the most sweetly plaintive sound that ever reached my ears. The Izumo peasantry say that the bird utters these words, which it certainly seems to do if one listen to it after having learned the alleged syllables:
"Tété" is the baby word for "father," and "kaka" for "mother;" and "pōppō" signifies, in infantile speech, "the bosom."39
Wild uguisu also frequently sweeten my summer with their song, and sometimes come very near the house, being attracted, apparently, by the chant of my caged pet. The uguisu is very common in this province. It haunts all the woods and the sacred groves in the neighborhood of the city, and I never made a journey in Izumo during the warm season without hearing its note from some shadowy place. But there are uguisu and uguisu. There are uguisu to be had for one or two yen, but the finely trained, cage-bred singer may command not less than a hundred.
It was at a little village temple that I first heard one curious belief about this delicate creature. In Japan, the coffin in which a corpse is borne to burial is totally unlike an Occidental coffin. It is a surprisingly small square box, wherein the dead is placed in a sitting posture. How any adult corpse can be put into so small a space may well be an enigma to foreigners. In cases of pronounced rigor mortis the work of getting the body into the coffin is difficult even for the professional dōshin-bozu. But the devout followers of Nichiren claim that after death their bodies will remain perfectly flexible; and the dead body of an uguisu, they affirm, likewise never stiffens, for this little bird is of their faith, and passes its life in singing praises unto the Sutra of the Lotus of the Good Law.
I have already become a little too fond of my dwelling-place. Each day, after returning from my college duties, and exchanging my teacher's uniform for the infinitely more comfortable Japanese robe, I find more than compensation for the weariness of five class-hours in the simple pleasure of squatting on the shaded veranda overlooking the gardens. Those antique garden walls, high-mossed below their ruined coping of tiles, seem to shut out even the murmur of the city's life. There are no sounds but the voices of birds, the shrilling of semi, or, at long, lazy intervals, the solitary plash of a diving frog. Nay, those walls seclude me from much more than city streets. Outside them hums the changed Japan of telegraphs and newspapers and steamships; within dwell the all-reposing peace of nature and the dreams of the sixteenth century. There is a charm of quaintness in the very air, a faint sense of something viewless and sweet all about one; perhaps the gentle haunting of dead ladies who looked like the ladies of the old picture-books, and who lived here when all this was new. Even in the summer light touching the gray, strange shapes of stone, thrilling through the foliage of the long-loved trees there is the tenderness of a phantom caress. These are the gardens of the past. The future will know them only as dreams, creations of a forgotten art, whose charm no genius may reproduce.
Of the human tenants here no creature seems to be afraid. The little frogs resting upon the lotus leaves scarcely shrink from my touch; the lizards sun themselves within easy reach of my hand; the water-snakes glide across my shadow without fear; bands of semi establish their deafening orchestra on a plum branch just above my head, and a praying mantis insolently poses on my knee. Swallows and sparrows not only build their nests on my roof, but even enter my rooms without concern, one swallow has actually built its nest in the ceiling of the bath-room, and the weasel purloins fish under my very eyes without any scruples of conscience. A wild uguisu perches on a cedar by the window, and in a burst of savage sweetness challenges my caged pet to a contest in song; and always through the golden air, from the green twilight of the mountain pines, there purls to me the plaintive, caressing, delicious call of the yamabato. No European dove has such a cry. He who can hear, for the first time, the voice of the yamabato without feeling a new sensation at his heart little deserves to dwell in this happy world.
Yet all this the old katchiû-yashiki and its gardens will doubtless have vanished forever before many years. Already a multitude of gardens, more spacious and more beautiful than mine, have been converted into ricefields or bamboo groves; and the quaint Izumo city, touched at last by some long-projected railway line, perhaps even within the present decade, will swell, and change, and grow commonplace, and demand these grounds for the building of factories and mills. Not from here alone, but from all the land the ancient peace and the ancient charm seem doomed to pass away. For impermanency is the nature of all, more particularly in Japan, and the changes and the changers shall also be changed until there is found no place for them, and regret is vanity. The dead art that made the beauty of this place was the art, also, of that faith to which belongs the all-consoling text, "Verily, even plants and trees, rocks and stones, all shall enter into Nirvana."