Unbeaten Tracks in Japan, by Isabella L. Bird

Letter 35 —(Continued)

The Harmonies of Nature — A Good Horse — A Single Discord — A Forest — Aino Ferrymen —“Les Puces! Les Puces!”— Baffled Explorers — Ito’s Contempt for Ainos — An Aino Introduction.

SARUFUTO.

No! Nature has no discords. This morning, to the far horizon, diamond-flashing blue water shimmered in perfect peace, outlined by a line of surf which broke lazily on a beach scarcely less snowy than itself. The deep, perfect blue of the sky was only broken by a few radiant white clouds, whose shadows trailed slowly over the plain on whose broad bosom a thousand corollas, in the glory of their brief but passionate life, were drinking in the sunshine, wavy ranges slept in depths of indigo, and higher hills beyond were painted in faint blue on the dreamy sky. Even the few grey houses of Yubets were spiritualised into harmony by a faint blue veil which was not a mist, and the loud croak of the loquacious and impertinent crows had a cheeriness about it, a hearty mockery, which I liked.

Above all, I had a horse so good that he was always trying to run away, and galloped so lightly over the flowery grass that I rode the seventeen miles here with great enjoyment. Truly a good horse, good ground to gallop on, and sunshine, make up the sum of enjoyable travelling. The discord in the general harmony was produced by the sight of the Ainos, a harmless people without the instinct of progress, descending to that vast tomb of conquered and unknown races which has opened to receive so many before them. A mounted policeman started with us from Yubets, and rode the whole way here, keeping exactly to my pace, but never speaking a word. We forded one broad, deep river, and crossed another, partly by fording and partly in a scow, after which the track left the level, and, after passing through reedy grass as high as the horse’s ears, went for some miles up and down hill, through woods composed entirely of the Ailanthus glandulosus, with leaves much riddled by the mountain silk-worm, and a ferny undergrowth of the familiar Pteris aquilina. The deep shade and glancing lights of this open copsewood were very pleasant; and as the horse tripped gaily up and down the little hills, and the sea murmur mingled with the rustle of the breeze, and a glint of white surf sometimes flashed through the greenery, and dragonflies and butterflies in suits of crimson and black velvet crossed the path continually like “living flashes” of light, I was reminded somewhat, though faintly, of windward Hawaii. We emerged upon an Aino hut and a beautiful placid river, and two Ainos ferried the four people and horses across in a scow, the third wading to guide the boat. They wore no clothing, but only one was hairy. They were superb-looking men, gentle, and extremely courteous, handing me in and out of the boat, and holding the stirrup while I mounted, with much natural grace. On leaving they extended their arms and waved their hands inwards twice, stroking their grand beards afterwards, which is their usual salutation. A short distance over shingle brought us to this Japanese village of sixty-three houses, a colonisation settlement, mainly of samurai from the province of Sendai, who are raising very fine crops on the sandy soil. The mountains, twelve miles in the interior, have a large Aino population, and a few Ainos live near this village and are held in great contempt by its inhabitants. My room is on the village street, and, as it is too warm to close the shoji, the aborigines stand looking in at the lattice hour after hour.

A short time ago Mr. Von Siebold and Count Diesbach galloped up on their return from Biratori, the Aino village to which I am going; and Count D., throwing himself from his horse, rushed up to me with the exclamation, Les puces! les puces! They have brought down with them the chief, Benri, a superb but dissipated-looking savage. Mr. Von Siebold called on me this evening, and I envied him his fresh, clean clothing as much as he envied me my stretcher and mosquito-net. They have suffered terribly from fleas, mosquitoes, and general discomfort, and are much exhausted; but Mr. Von S. thinks that, in spite of all, a visit to the mountain Ainos is worth a long journey. As I expected, they have completely failed in their explorations, and have been deserted by Lieutenant Kreitner. I asked Mr. Von S. to speak to Ito in Japanese about the importance of being kind and courteous to the Ainos whose hospitality I shall receive; and Ito is very indignant at this. “Treat Ainos politely!” he says; “they’re just dogs, not men;” and since he has regaled me with all the scandal concerning them which he has been able to rake together in the village.

We have to take not only food for both Ito and myself, but cooking utensils. I have been introduced to Benri, the chief; and, though he does not return for a day or two, he will send a message along with us which will ensure me hospitality.

I. L. B.

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