his life, if necessary, in order to defend his young hostess. Hastily
girding up his robes, he slipped noiselessly from under the paper
curtain, crept to the edge of the screen, and peeped. What he saw
astonished him extremely.
Before her illuminated butsudan the young woman, magnificently attired,
was dancing all alone. Her costume he recognised as that of a
shirabyoshi, though much richer than any he had ever seen worn by a
professional dancer. Marvellously enhanced by it, her beauty, in that
lonely time and place, appeared almost supernatural; but what seemed to
him even more wonderful was her dancing. For an instant he felt the
tingling of a weird doubt. The superstitions of peasants, the legends of
Fox-women, flashed before his imagination; but the sight of the Buddhist
shrine, of the sacred picture, dissipated the fancy, and shamed him for
the folly of it. At the same time he became conscious that he was
watching something she had not wished him to see, and that it was his
duty, as her guest, to return at once behind the screen; but the
spectacle fascinated him. He felt, with not less pleasure than
amazement, that he was looking upon the most accomplished dancer he had
ever seen; and the more he watched, the more the witchery of her grace
grew upon him. Suddenly she paused, panting, unfastened her girdle,
turned in the act of doffing her upper robe, and started violently as
her eyes encountered his own.
He tried at once to excuse himself to her. He said he had been suddenly
awakened by the sound of quick feet, which sound had caused him some
uneasiness, chiefly for her sake, because of the lateness of the hour
and the lonesomeness of the place. Then he confessed his surprise at
what he had seen, and spoke of the manner in which it had attracted him.
'I beg you,' he continued, 'to forgive my curiosity, for I cannot help
wondering who you are, and how you could have become so marvellous a
dancer. All the dancers of Saikyo I have seen, yet I have never seen
among the most celebrated of them a girl who could dance like you; and
once I had begun to watch you, I could not take away my eyes.'
At first she had seemed angry, but before he had ceased to speak her
expression changed. She smiled, and seated herself before him.' 'No, I
am not angry with you,' she said. 'I am only sorry that you should have
watched me, for I am sure you must have thought me mad when you saw me
dancing that way, all by myself; and now I must tell you the meaning of
what you have seen.'
So she related her story. Her name he remembered to have heard as a boy
- her professional name, the name of the most famous of shirabyoshi, the
darling of the capital, who, in the zenith of her fame and beauty, had
suddenly vanished from public life, none knew whither or why. She had
fled from wealth and fortune with a youth who loved her. He was poor,
but between them they possessed enough means to live simply and happily
in the country. They built a little house in the mountains, and there
for a number of years they existed only for each other. He adored her.
One of his greatest pleasures was to see her dance. Each evening he
would play some favourite melody, and she would dance for him. But one
long cold winter he fell sick, and, in spite of her tender nursing,
died. Since then she had lived alone with the memory of him, performing
all those small rites of love and homage with which the dead are
honoured. Daily before his tablet she placed the customary offerings,
and nightly danced to please him, as of old. And this was the
explanation of what the young traveller had seen. It was indeed rude,
she continued, to have awakened her tired guest; but she had waited
until she thought him soundly sleeping, and then she had tried to dance
very, very lightly. So she hoped he would pardon her for having
unintentionally disturbed him.
When she had told him all, she made ready a little tea, which they drank
together; then she entreated him so plaintively to please her by trying
to sleep again that he found himself obliged to go back, with many
sincere apologies, under the paper mosquito-curtain.
He slept well and long; the sun was high before he woke. On rising, he
found prepared for him a meal as simple as that of the evening before,
and he felt hungry. Nevertheless he ate sparingly, fearing the young
woman might have stinted herself in thus providing for him; and then he
made ready to depart. But when he wanted to pay her for what he had
received, and for all the trouble he had given her, she refused to take
anything from him, saying: 'What I had to give was not worth money, and
what I did was done for kindness alone. So! pray that you will try to
forget the discomfort you suffered here, and will remember only the
good-will of one who had nothing to offer.'
He still endeavoured to induce her to accept something; but at last,
finding that his insistence only gave her pain, he took leave of her
with such words as he could find to express his gratitude, and not
without a secret regret, for her beauty and her gentleness had charmed
him more than he would have liked to acknowledge to any but herself. She
indicated to him the path to follow, and watched him descend the
mountain until he had passed from sight. An hour later he found himself
upon a highway with which he was familiar. Then a sudden remorse touched
him: he had forgotten to tell her his name. For an instant he hesitated;
then he said to himself, 'What matters it? I shall be always poor.' And
he went on.
Many years passed by, and many fashions with them; and the painter
became old. But ere becoming old he had become famous. Princes, charmed
by the wonder of his work, had vied with one another in giving him
patronage; so that he grew rich, and possessed a beautiful dwelling of
his own in the City of the Emperors. Young artists from many provinces
were his pupils, and lived with him, serving him in all things while
receiving his instruction; and his name was known throughout the land.
Now, there came one day to his house an old woman, who asked to speak
with him. The servants, seeing that she was meanly dressed and of
miserable appearance, took her to be some common beggar, and questioned
her roughly. But when she answered: 'I can tell to no one except your
master why I have come,' they believed her mad, and deceived her,
saying: 'He is not now in Saikyo, nor do we know how soon he will
But the old woman came again and again - day after day, and week after
week - each time being told something that was not true: 'To-day he is
ill,' or, 'To-day he is very busy,' or, 'To-day he has much company, and
therefore cannot see you.' Nevertheless she continued to come, always at
the same hour each day, and always carrying a bundle wrapped in a ragged
covering; and the servants at last thought it were best to speak to
their master about her. So they said to him: 'There is a very old woman,
whom we take to be a beggar, at our lord's gate. More than fifty times
she has come, asking to see our lord, and refusing to tell us why -
saying that she can tell her wishes only to our lord. And we have tried
to discourage her, as she seemed to be mad; but she always comes.
Therefore we have presumed to mention the matter to our lord, in order
that we may learn what is to be done hereafter.'
Then the Master answered sharply: 'Why did none of you tell me of this
before?' and went out himself to the gate, and spoke very kindly to the
woman, remembering how he also had been poor. And he asked her if she
desired alms of him.
But she answered that she had no need of money or of food, and only
desired that he would paint for her a picture. He wondered at her wish,
and bade her enter his house. So she entered into the vestibule, and,
kneeling there, began to untie the knots of the bundle she had brought
with her. When she had unwrapped it, the painter perceived curious rich
quaint garments of silk broidered with designs in gold, yet much frayed
and discoloured by wear and time - the wreck of a wonderful costume of
other days, the attire of a shirabyoshi.
While the old woman unfolded the garments one by one, and tried to
smooth them with her trembling fingers, a memory stirred in the Master's
brain, thrilled dimly there a little space, then suddenly lighted up. In
that soft shock of recollection, he saw again the lonely mountain
dwelling in which he had received unremunerated hospitality - the tiny
room prepared for his rest, the paper mosquito-curtain, the faintly
burning lamp before the Buddhist shrine, the strange beauty of one
dancing there alone in the dead of the night. Then, to the astonishment
of the aged visitor, he, the favoured of princes, bowed low before her,
and said: 'Pardon my rudeness in having forgotten your face for a
moment; but it is more than forty years since we last saw each other.
Now I remember you well. You received me once at your house. You gave up
to me the only bed you had. I saw you dance, and you told me all your
story. You had been a shirabyoshi, and I have not forgotten your name.'
He uttered it. She, astonished and confused, could not at first reply to
him, for she was old and had suffered much, and her memory had begun to
fail. But he spoke more and more kindly to her, and reminded her of many
things which she had told him, and described to her the house in which
she had lived alone, so that at last she also remembered; and she
answered, with tears of pleasure: 'Surely the Divine One who looketh
down above the sound of prayer has guided me. But when my unworthy home
was honoured by the visit of the august Master, I was not as I now am.
And it seems to me like a miracle of our Lord Buddha that the Master
should remember me.'
Then she related the rest of her simple story. In the course of years,
she had become, through poverty, obliged to part with her little house;
and in her old age she had returned alone to the great city, in which
her name had long been forgotten. It had caused her much pain to lose
her home; but it grieved her still more that, in becoming weak and old,
she could no longer dance each evening before the butsudan, to please
the spirit of the dead whom she had loved. Therefore she wanted to have
a picture of herself painted, in the costume and the attitude of the
dance, that she might suspend it before the butsudan. For this she had
prayed earnestly to Kwannon. And she had sought out the Master because
of his fame as a painter, since she desired, for the sake of the dead,
no common work, but a picture painted with great skill; and she had
brought her dancing attire, hoping that the Master might be willing to
paint her therein.
He listened to all with a kindly smile, and answered her: 'It will be
only a pleasure for me to paint the picture which you want. This day I
have something to finish which cannot be delayed. But if you will come
here to-morrow, I will paint you exactly as you wish, and as well as I
But she said: 'I have not yet told to the Master the thing which most
troubles me. And it is this - that I can offer in return for so great a
favour nothing except these dancer's clothes; and they are of no value
in themselves, though they were costly once. Still, I hoped the Master
might be willing to take them, seeing they have become curious; for
there are no more shirabyoshi, and the maiko of these times wear no such
'Of that matter,' the good painter exclaimed, 'you must not think at
all! No; I am glad to have this present chance of paying a small part
of my old debt to you. So to-morrow I will paint you just as you wish.'
She prostrated herself thrice before him, uttering thanks and then said,
'Let my lord pardon, though I have yet something more to say. For I do
not wish that he should paint me as I now am, but only as I used to be
when I was young, as my lord knew me.'
He said: 'I remember well. You were very beautiful.'
Her wrinkled features lighted up with pleasure, as she bowed her thanks
to him for those words. And she exclaimed: 'Then indeed all that I hoped
and prayed for may be done! Since he thus remembers my poor youth, I
beseech my lord to paint me, not as I now am, but as he saw me when I
was not old and, as it has pleased him generously to say, not uncomely.
O Master, make me young again! Make me seem beautiful that I may seem
beautiful to the soul of him for whose sake I, the unworthy, beseech
this! He will see the Master's work: he will forgive me that I can no
Once more the Master bade her have no anxiety, and said: 'Come tomorrow,
and I will paint you. I will make a picture of you just as you
were when I saw you, a young and beautiful shirabyoshi, and I will paint
it as carefully and as skilfully as if I were painting the picture of
the richest person in the land. Never doubt, but come.'
So the aged dancer came at the appointed hour; and upon soft white silk
the artist painted a picture of her. Yet not a picture of her as she
seemed to the Master's pupils but the memory of her as she had been in
the days of her youth, bright-eyed as a bird, lithe as a bamboo,
dazzling as a tennin  in her raiment of silk and gold. Under the
magic of the Master's brush, the vanished grace returned, the faded
beauty bloomed again. When the kakemono had been finished, and stamped
with his seal, he mounted it richly upon silken cloth, and fixed to it
rollers of cedar with ivory weights, and a silken cord by which to hang
it; and he placed it in a little box of white wood, and so gave it to
the shirabyoshi. And he would also have presented her with a gift of
money. But though he pressed her earnestly, he could not persuade her to
accept his help. 'Nay,' she made answer, with tears, 'indeed I need
nothing. The picture only I desired. For that I prayed; and now my
prayer has been answered, and I know that I never can wish for anything
more in this life, and that if I come to die thus desiring nothing, to
enter upon the way of Buddha will not be difficult. One thought .alone
causes me sorrow - that I have nothing to offer to the Master but this
dancer's apparel, which is indeed of little worth, though I beseech him
I to accept it; and I will pray each day that his future life may be a
life of happiness, because of the wondrous kindness which I he has done
'Nay,' protested the painter, smiling, 'what is it that I have done?
Truly nothing. As for the dancer's garments, I will accept them, if that
can make you more happy. They will bring back pleasant memories of the
night I passed in your home, when you gave up all your comforts for my
unworthy sake, and yet would not suffer me to pay for that which I used;
and for that kindness I hold myself to be still in your debt. But now
tell me where you live, so that I may see the picture in its place.' For
he had resolved within himself to place her beyond the reach of want.
But she excused herself with humble words, and would not tell him,
saying that her dwelling-place was too mean to be looked upon by such as
he; and then, with many prostrations, she thanked him again and again,
and went away with her treasure, weeping for joy.
Then the Master called to one of his pupils: 'Go quickly after that
woman, but so that she does not know herself followed, and bring me word
where she lives.' So the young man followed her, unperceived.
He remained long away, and when he returned he laughed in the manner of
one obliged to say something which it is not pleasant to hear, and he
said: 'That woman, O Master, I followed out of the city to the dry bed
of the river, near to the place where criminals are executed. There I
saw a hut such as an Eta might dwell in, and that is where she lives. A
forsaken and filthy place, O Master!'
'Nevertheless,' the painter replied, 'to-morrow you will take me to that
forsaken and filthy place. What time I live she shall not suffer for
food or clothing or comfort.'
And as all wondered, he told them the story of the shirabyoshi, after
which it did not seem to them that his words were strange.
On the morning of the day following, an hour after sun-rise, the Master
and his pupil took their way to the dry bed of the river, beyond the
verge of the city, to the place of outcasts.
The entrance of the little dwelling they found closed by a single
shutter, upon which the Master tapped many times without evoking a
response. Then, finding the shutter unfastened from within, he pushed it
slightly aside, and called through the aperture. None replied, and he
decided to enter. Simultaneously, with extraordinary vividness, there
thrilled back to him the sensation of the very instant when, as a tired.
lad, he stood pleading for admission to the lonesome little cottage
among the hills.
Entering alone softly, he perceived that the woman was lying there,
wrapped in a single thin and tattered futon, seemingly asleep. On a rude
shelf he recognised the butsudan of' forty years before, with its
tablet, and now, as then, a tiny lamp was burning in front of the
kaimyo. The kakemono of the Goddess of Mercy with her lunar aureole was
gone, but on the wall facing the shrine he beheld his own dainty gift
suspended, and an ofuda beneath it - an ofuda of Hito-koto-Kwannon  -
that Kwannon unto whom it is unlawful to pray more than once, as she
answers but a single prayer. There was little else in the desolate
dwelling; only the garments of a female pilgrim, and a mendicant's staff
But the Master did not pause to look at these things, for he desired to
awaken and to gladden the sleeper, and he called her name cheerily twice
Then suddenly he saw that she was dead, and he wondered while he gazed
upon her face, for it seemed less old. A vague sweetness, like a ghost
of youth, had returned to it; the lines of sorrow had been softened, the
wrinkles strangely smoothed, by the touch of a phantom Master mightier
CHAPTER EIGHT From Hoki to Oki
I RESOLVED to go to Oki.
Not even a missionary had ever been to Oki, and its shores had never
been seen by European eyes, except on those rare occasions when men-of-
war steamed by them, cruising about the Japanese Sea. This alone would
have been a sufficient reason for going there; but a stronger one was
furnished for me by the ignorance of the Japanese themselves about Oki.
Excepting the far-away Riu-Kiu, or Loo-Choo Islands, inhabited by a
somewhat different race with a different language, the least-known
portion of the Japanese Empire is perhaps Oki. Since it belongs to the
same prefectural district as Izumo, each new governor of Shimane-Ken is
supposed to pay one visit to Oki after his inauguration; and the chief
of police of the province sometimes goes there upon a tour of
inspection. There are also some mercantile houses in Matsue and in other
cities which send a commercial traveller to Oki once a year.
Furthermore, there is quite a large trade with Oki - almost all carried
on by small sailing-vessels. But such official and commercial
communications have not been of a nature to make Oki much better known
to-day than in the medieval period of Japanese history. There are still
current among the common people of the west coast extraordinary stories
of Oki much like those about that fabulous Isle of Women, which figures
so largely in the imaginative literature of various Oriental races.
According to these old legends, the moral notions of the people of Oki
were extremely fantastic: the most rigid ascetic could not dwell there
and maintain his indifference to earthly pleasures; and, however wealthy
at his arrival, the visiting stranger must soon return to his native
land naked and poor, because of the seductions of women. I had quite
sufficient experiences of travel in queer countries to feel certain that
all these marvellous stories signified nothing beyond the bare fact that
Oki was a terra incognita; and I even felt inclined to believe that the
average morals of the people of Oki - judging by those of the common folk
of the western provinces - must be very much better than the morals of
our ignorant classes at home.
Which I subsequently ascertained to be the case.
For some time I could find no one among my Japanese acquaintances to
give me any information about Oki, beyond the fact that in ancient times
it had been a place of banishment for the Emperors Go-Daigo and Go-Toba,
dethroned by military usurpers, and this I already knew. But at last,
quite unexpectedly, I found a friend - a former fellow-teacher - who had
not only been to Oki, but was going there again within a few days about
some business matter. We agreed to go together. His accounts of Oki
differed very materially from those of the people who had never been
there. The Oki folks, he said, were almost as much civilised as the
Izumo folks: they, had nice towns and good public schools. They were
very simple and honest beyond belief, and extremely kind to strangers.
Their only boast was that of having kept their race unchanged since the
time that the Japanese had first come to Japan; or, in more romantic
phrase, since the Age of the Gods. They were all Shintoists, members of
the Izumo Taisha faith, but Buddhism was also maintained among them,
chiefly through the generous subscription of private individuals. And
there were very comfortable hotels, so that I would feel quite at home.
He also gave me a little book about Oki, printed for the use of the Oki
schools, from which I obtained the following brief summary of facts:
Oki-no-Kuni, or the Land of Oki, consists of two groups of small islands
in the Sea of Japan, about one hundred miles from the coast of Izumo.
Dozen, as the nearer group is termed, comprises, besides various islets,
three islands lying close together: Chiburishima, or the Island of
Chiburi (sometimes called Higashinoshima, or Eastern Island);
Nishinoshima, or the Western Island, and Nakanoshima, or the Middle
Island. Much larger than any of these is the principal island, Dogo,
which together with various islets, mostly uninhabited, form the
remaining group. It is sometimes called Oki - though the name Oki is
more generally used for the whole archipelago. 
Officially, Oki is divided into four kori or counties. Chiburi and
Nishinoshima together form Chiburigori; Nakanoshima, with an islet,
makes Amagori, and Dogo is divided into Ochigori and Sukigori.
All these islands are very mountainous, and only a small portion of
their area has ever been cultivated. Their chief sources of revenue are
their fisheries, in which nearly the whole population has always been
engaged from the most ancient times.
During the winter months the sea between Oki and the west coast is
highly dangerous for small vessels, and in that season the islands hold
little communication with the mainland. Only one passenger steamer runs
to Oki from Sakai in Hoki In a direct line, the distance from Sakai in
Hoki to Saigo, the chief port of Oki, is said to be thirty-nine ri; but
the steamer touches at the other islands upon her way thither.
There are quite a number of little towns, or rather villages, in Oki, of
which forty-five belong to Dogo. The villages are nearly all situated
upon the coast. There are large schools in the principal towns. The
population of the islands is stated to be 30,196, but the respective
populations of towns and villages are not given.
From Matsue in Izumo to Sakai in Hoki is a trip of barely two hours by
steamer. Sakai is the chief seaport of Shimane-Ken. It is an ugly little
town, full of unpleasant smells; it exists only as a port; it has no
industries, scarcely any shops, and only one Shinto temple of small
dimensions and smaller interest. Its principal buildings are warehouses,
pleasure resorts for sailors, and a few large dingy hotels, which are
always overcrowded with guests waiting for steamers to Osaka, to Bakkan,
to Hamada, to Niigata, and various other ports. On this coast no
steamers run regularly anywhere; their owners attach no business value
whatever to punctuality, and guests have usually to wait for a much
longer time than they could possibly have expected, and the hotels are
But the harbour is beautiful - a long frith between the high land of
Izumo and the low coast of Hoki. It is perfectly sheltered from storms,
and deep enough to admit all but the largest steamers. The ships can lie
close to the houses, and the harbour is nearly always thronged with all
sorts of craft, from junks to steam packets of the latest construction.
My friend and I were lucky enough to secure back rooms at the best