Unbeaten Tracks in Japan, by Isabella L. Bird

Letter 39 —(Continued)

The Universal Language — The Yezo Corrals — A “Typhoon Rain”— Difficult Tracks — An Unenviable Ride — Drying Clothes — A Woman’s Remorse.

This morning I left early in the kuruma with two kind and delightful savages. The road being much broken by the rains I had to get out frequently, and every time I got in again they put my air-pillow behind me, and covered me up in a blanket; and when we got to a rough river, one made a step of his back by which I mounted their horse, and gave me nooses of rope to hold on by, and the other held my arm to keep me steady, and they would not let me walk up or down any of the hills. What a blessing it is that, amidst the confusion of tongues, the language of kindness and courtesy is universally understood, and that a kindly smile on a savage face is as intelligible as on that of one’s own countryman! They had never drawn a kuruma, and were as pleased as children when I showed them how to balance the shafts. They were not without the capacity to originate ideas, for, when they were tired of the frolic of pulling, they attached the kuruma by ropes to the horse, which one of them rode at a “scramble,” while the other merely ran in the shafts to keep them level. This is an excellent plan.

Horobets is a fishing station of antique and decayed aspect, with eighteen Japanese and forty-seven Aino houses. The latter are much larger than at Shiraoi, and their very steep roofs are beautifully constructed. It was a miserable day, with fog concealing the mountains and lying heavily on the sea, but as no one expected rain I sent the kuruma back to Mororan and secured horses. On principle I always go to the corral myself to choose animals, if possible, without sore backs, but the choice is often between one with a mere raw and others which have holes in their backs into which I could put my hand, or altogether uncovered spines. The practice does no immediate good, but by showing the Japanese that foreign opinion condemns these cruelties an amendment may eventually be brought about. At Horobets, among twenty horses, there was not one that I would take — I should like to have had them all shot. They are cheap and abundant, and are of no account. They drove a number more down from the hills, and I chose the largest and finest horse I have seen in Japan, with some spirit and action, but I soon found that he had tender feet. We shortly left the high-road, and in torrents of rain turned off on “unbeaten tracks,” which led us through a very bad swamp and some much swollen and very rough rivers into the mountains, where we followed a worn-out track for eight miles. It was literally “FOUL weather,” dark and still, with a brown mist, and rain falling in sheets. I threw my paper waterproof away as useless, my clothes were of course soaked, and it was with much difficulty that I kept my shomon and paper money from being reduced to pulp. Typhoons are not known so far north as Yezo, but it was what they call a “typhoon rain” without the typhoon, and in no time it turned the streams into torrents barely fordable, and tore up such of a road as there is, which at its best is a mere water-channel. Torrents, bringing tolerable-sized stones, tore down the track, and when the horses had been struck two or three times by these, it was with difficulty that they could be induced to face the rushing water. Constantly in a pass, the water had gradually cut a track several feet deep between steep banks, and the only possible walking place was a stony gash not wide enough for the two feet of a horse alongside of each other, down which water and stones were rushing from behind, with all manner of trailers matted overhead, and between avoiding being strangled and attempting to keep a tender-footed horse on his legs, the ride was a very severe one. The poor animal fell five times from stepping on stones, and in one of his falls twisted my left wrist badly. I thought of the many people who envied me my tour in Japan, and wondered whether they would envy me that ride!

After this had gone on for four hours, the track, with a sudden dip over a hillside, came down on Old Mororan, a village of thirty Aino and nine Japanese houses, very unpromising-looking, although exquisitely situated on the rim of a lovely cove. The Aino huts were small and poor, with an unusual number of bear skulls on poles, and the village consisted mainly of two long dilapidated buildings, in which a number of men were mending nets. It looked a decaying place, of low, mean lives. But at a “merchant’s” there was one delightful room with two translucent sides — one opening on the village, the other looking to the sea down a short, steep slope, on which is a quaint little garden, with dwarfed fir-trees in pots, a few balsams, and a red cabbage grown with much pride as a “foliage plant.”

It is nearly midnight, but my bed and bedding are so wet that I am still sitting up and drying them, patch by patch, with tedious slowness, on a wooden frame placed over a charcoal brazier, which has given my room the dryness and warmth which are needed when a person has been for many hours in soaked clothing, and has nothing really dry to put on. Ito bought a chicken for my supper, but when he was going to kill it an hour later its owner in much grief returned the money, saying she had brought it up and could not bear to see it killed. This is a wild, outlandish place, but an intuition tells me that it is beautiful. The ocean at present is thundering up the beach with the sullen force of a heavy ground-swell, and the rain is still falling in torrents.

I. L. B.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/b/bird/isabella/japan/chapter51.html

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