Unbeaten Tracks in Japan, by Isabella L. Bird

Letter 12 —(Concluded)

A Japanese Ferry — A Corrugated Road — The Pass of Sanno — Various Vegetation — An Unattractive Undergrowth — Preponderance of Men.

We changed horses at Tajima, formerly a daimiyo’s residence, and, for a Japanese town, rather picturesque. It makes and exports clogs, coarse pottery, coarse lacquer, and coarse baskets.

After travelling through rice-fields varying from thirty yards square to a quarter of an acre, with the tops of the dykes utilised by planting dwarf beans along them, we came to a large river, the Arakai, along whose affluents we had been tramping for two days, and, after passing through several filthy villages, thronged with filthy and industrious inhabitants, crossed it in a scow. High forks planted securely in the bank on either side sustained a rope formed of several strands of the wistaria knotted together. One man hauled on this hand over hand, another poled at the stern, and the rapid current did the rest. In this fashion we have crossed many rivers subsequently. Tariffs of charges are posted at all ferries, as well as at all bridges where charges are made, and a man sits in an office to receive the money.

The country was really very beautiful. The views were wider and finer than on the previous days, taking in great sweeps of peaked mountains, wooded to their summits, and from the top of the Pass of Sanno the clustered peaks were glorified into unearthly beauty in a golden mist of evening sunshine. I slept at a house combining silk farm, post office, express office, and daimiyo’s rooms, at the hamlet of Ouchi, prettily situated in a valley with mountainous surroundings, and, leaving early on the following morning, had a very grand ride, passing in a crateriform cavity the pretty little lake of Oyake, and then ascending the magnificent pass of Ichikawa. We turned off what, by ironical courtesy, is called the main road, upon a villainous track, consisting of a series of lateral corrugations, about a foot broad, with depressions between them more than a foot deep, formed by the invariable treading of the pack-horses in each other’s footsteps. Each hole was a quagmire of tenacious mud, the ascent of 2400 feet was very steep, and the mago adjured the animals the whole time with Hai! Hai! Hai! which is supposed to suggest to them that extreme caution is requisite. Their shoes were always coming untied, and they wore out two sets in four miles. The top of the pass, like that of a great many others, is a narrow ridge, on the farther side of which the track dips abruptly into a tremendous ravine, along whose side we descended for a mile or so in company with a river whose reverberating thunder drowned all attempts at speech. A glorious view it was, looking down between the wooded precipices to a rolling wooded plain, lying in depths of indigo shadow, bounded by ranges of wooded mountains, and overtopped by heights heavily splotched with snow! The vegetation was significant of a milder climate. The magnolia and bamboo re-appeared, and tropical ferns mingled with the beautiful blue hydrangea, the yellow Japan lily, and the great blue campanula. There was an ocean of trees entangled with a beautiful trailer (Actinidia polygama) with a profusion of white leaves, which, at a distance, look like great clusters of white blossoms. But the rank undergrowth of the forests of this region is not attractive. Many of its component parts deserve the name of weeds, being gawky, ragged umbels, coarse docks, rank nettles, and many other things which I don’t know, and never wish to see again. Near the end of this descent my mare took the bit between her teeth and carried me at an ungainly gallop into the beautifully situated, precipitous village of Ichikawa, which is absolutely saturated with moisture by the spray of a fine waterfall which tumbles through the middle of it, and its trees and road-side are green with the Protococcus viridis. The Transport Agent there was a woman. Women keep yadoyas and shops, and cultivate farms as freely as men. Boards giving the number of inhabitants, male and female, and the number of horses and bullocks, are put up in each village, and I noticed in Ichikawa, as everywhere hitherto, that men preponderate. 12

I. L. B.

12 The excess of males over females in the capital is 36,000, and in the whole Empire nearly half a million.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31