Walter Weston.

The playground of the Far East online

. (page 15 of 23)
Online LibraryWalter WestonThe playground of the Far East → online text (page 15 of 23)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

a little asohi ("diversion") with me. Time hung
heavy on his hands, he intimated, these pouring
wet days, and he proposed to kill some of it in
my company. For the moment his singular appear-
ance and behaviour suggested something other than
"time" might be in peril. I explained, however, that
I was unable to accommodate him. I was already
occupied ; nor could I bring myself to relent even
when, after all other blandishments had failed, a
bright idea struck him, and removing his right eye
he insinuatingly handed it to me for inspection. The
shock was somewhat lessened when I saw it was but
an iri-7ne ("an artificial eye"), but on that appeariag
I requested him to retire, and so the shdji and
the incident were simultaneously closed.

A much more delightful and welcome arrival was


that of my friend Oswald White, H.B.M. Vice-
Consul at Osaka, who descended on the onsen from
a fine expedition from the Toyama direction by way
of Arimine, Yakushi, and Kurodake. He had been
more fortunate in his weather than I, and indeed
than many others at that season, for the storms
extending over the Toyama plain proved to have
killed over three hundred people and destroyed
more than ten times that number of houses. Many
river embankments had been washed away, and the
cost of their repair alone involved some £300,000.
The news of the disaster lent added interest to the
labours of the toiling gangs we left behind as we
turned our backs on the Tateyama Onsen, for our
crossing of the Harinoki Pass.

Taking the expedition from the west, our first
night's bivouac was to be spent at the Kurobe-daira
hut, close by the crossing of the wild, romantic torrent
of that name, whose wide outlet on the Sea of Japan
I had earlier traversed on my journey along
the coast. The track was quite distinguishable
most of the day, having mended its ways consider-
ably since first I made its acquaintance. Beyond the
river, however, it failed to hold on to its pathway of
reform, as we were next day to find out.

Near the head of the valley, above the onsen, a
little lake lay at the foot of the cliffs, at one end
of which the leaden waters were boihng and seething
like those of Jigoku-dani far above. Overtopping
the first of our ridges, the Zara-goe (7300 ft.), we
met a couple of active-looking climbers wearing
the badge of the Japanese Alpine Club. The usual
chat was followed by a request for one's signature


and a quotation suitable to the romantic surround-
ings of our meeting-place.

A little south of the Zara-goe, on the edge of
a plateau overhanging the valley down which the
track passes towards the Kurobe-gawa, lies the
Go-shiki-ga-hara ("the Rainbow Moor"), which
shares with Shirouma the distinction of the richest
spot in Alpine Japan for the variety and abundance
of its flora. In early summer its beauty fully deserves
its title, literally "the Five Colours Moor," the
primary colours according to the old Japanese enume-
ration being five, i.e. red, yellow, green, black, and
white. Amongst the plants that attract attention
here are the familiar Schizocodon soldaneUoides,
Primula Hakusaneiisis, Orchis latifolia, Trollius patu-
lus, Veratrmn album (var. grandijiorum), Trientalis
Europoea, Stellaria Jiorida, Gentiana Nipponica, and
many more.

From the Zara-goe we descended the snowy
ravine that links it with a pass over yet another
ridge, the Nukuidani-toge, and crossing this we
dropped down to the two little huts at Kurobe-
daira, our first night's halt. Thus far the track
had continued to deserve the better things said of
its reformed condition, but henceforward it degener-
ated once more to that of a pathway which failed
to keep up its reputation — ^Hlle ego qui quondam."
It was only when we crossed the swift and troubled
waters of the Kurobe-gawa the next morning that
we found how manifold were its omissions and
deficiencies, though in the long run it just suc-
ceeded in retrieving itself from downfall, final and
complete. We crossed the torrent by means of


a kago-watashi of an ancient and amusing type.
On three thicknesses of telegraph wire a small board,
suspended by straw ropes, was slung so as to slide
freely to and fro. A goriki, having waded waist-deep
across the river, hauled on a rope at the moment one
lifted oneself in one's seat, with a forward move-
ment to ease the strain. In course of time the
passage was safely accomplished, after quite an
entertaining experience, though a slip from the seat
would probably have had qmte fatal consequences.
The sunshine and shadows of the wild ravine of the
Harinoki-zawa, the cool quietness of the deep pools,
and the splendid trees standing out against a sky
of deepest blue, afforded an entrancing combination
in spite of the disappearance of the erring pathway.
Indeed, so destructive and so inevitable are the
torrent spates, that it is strange a track should ever
have been planned, and, stranger still, actually con-
structed. As we left the glen, however, it "found
itself" once more, and for most of the way to the
summit of the Harinoki Pass we had a good deal
of its company. From the top (8120 ft.) a charming
vignette southwards reveals the spear-head of Yari-
ga-take, and then to the south-east between the
serrated outlines of Yatsu-ga-take and the Shinshu,
or Western, Komagatake, the cone of Fuji rises,
nearly 100 miles away. At our feet long slopes
of snow stretched down to the wild desolation of the
Kaga-gawa ravine, hemmed in by sharp, bare peaks
and splintered aretes that rendered the whole scene
one of singular and savage aspect. While the goiHki
picked their way cautiously and with difficulty down
the rocks on either hand, I was able to get an excellent


glissade almost 2000 ft. to the torrent-bed. Further
on we pitched the little tent on the margin of
the stream, while the goriki made themselves a
shelter under the lee of a huge rock close at hand.
It was a delightful spot, and after a cosy night
we only left it with reluctance when the gathering
heat of the summer sun began next day to smite the
exposed river-bed with a force that warned us of
what was still in store. The track had wholly
vanished, but some miles of trudging over the
boulders or the vegetation on either bank once more
restored it to us for good and all. Here and there
one recognised the old landmarks of my former
expedition, for twenty years had brought but little

An hour beyond the great rock known as Maruishi,
we halted for lunch and a pleasant chat at a
camp of coolies engaged in afforestation work — a
welcome sight. The shade and stillness of the old
Shinto Shrine of Noguchi in its grove of magnificent
cryptomeria invited further repose, as the early
afternoon brought with it a heat almost over-
powering. For Noguchi — as its name tells us — is on
the edge of the plain where lies Omachi, and the
transition from the snows and the cool shelter of the
hills and valleys we had traversed to that sun-
scorched region must be felt to be fully understood.
Doubly welcome was the friendly reception from
Momose San at the Tai-san-kwan on our arrival at
the old town — unspeakably grateful the soothing
waters of the family "tub" — and the change there-
after from dusty boots, that almost cracked with the
heat, and travel-stained garments, into the cool, soft


yukata, the charm and the value of which only such
a transition can fully enable one to enjoy.

It was at Omachi on 9th August that we first
heard the news of the outbreak of the " Great War,"
through the fantastic reports of an engagement in
the North Sea in which both sides had suffered
severe losses. As one had been wholly out of touch
with " civilisation " for a fortnight, no inkling of
possible strife had reached us, and the news brought
with it the shock of a stunning, or at least bewilder-
ing, surprise. The country folk themselves, by whom
one was surrounded, for the most part knew nothing
and cared less. The Anglo-Japanese Alliance meant
little to them, and the fact of far-distant European
nations being now at death-grips was almost wholly
outside their interests. It was but natural, for they
had little cause to love some of the people now at
each other's throats, w^hile those whom individually
they most respected when known (the British) were
little more than a name, and that only familiar to
very few. The prospects of the rice-harvest, or,
even more, just now, of the forthcoming silk-worm
season, constituted their chief, and almost their only,
care. As the days went by, more and clearer informa-
tion gradually filtered through, and when at length
the various classes of the people of Japan, in general,
came to crystallise their judgments and to formulate
more definite conclusions, the results proved not only
of the deepest interest, but, probably, to most English
people in England, full of unexpected significance
and perhaps perplexed surprise. Of this it may be pro-
fitable, since the question is now by no means a merely
academic one, to speak in some detail a little later on.


Our immediate concern for the moment takes us
into a clearer atmosphere, and occupies us with
serener skies.

The growing enterprise of the more energetic of
modern Japanese mountaineers has displayed itself
of recent years in the form of expedition once known
in the Alps as grdtwdnderung, or better, in plain
English, as "ridge- walking." A number of excellent
climbs have thus been accomplished by the bolder
spirits such as Shigekichi Kondo, " Usui " Kojima,
I. Tsujimura, M. Udono, with Saegusa, Takano, and
others. The great ridges of which Yarigatake forms
the culminating point have been traversed both north
and south of that peak, and the Koshu Shirane-san
has also been trodden under-foot its whole serrated
length. To associate ourselves with the highest
pleasures and aspirations of our friends, we deter-
mined our own last Alpine journey should take a
similar form, and at the same time carry out a
long-cherished intention, the traverse of Otenjo
("Peak of Highest Heaven") from north to south.
It was new to " foreign " travel, and even the name
itself was probably not yet known to half a dozen
Europeans, all told. On 18th August my wife and
I, with the faithful Seizo, left the charming inn at
Akashina, once more to retrace our delightful route
up the Nakabusa valley, whose charms do but grow
with more frequent contemplation. Great was the
satisfaction of our good host that he was now able
to instal us in the charming rooms he had hurried
to completion — but just too late — for our reception
two years before. With immense pride he informed
us, as he did the honours of the onsen surroundings


on the " off day " we spent there, that one of the
springs had been found by a government analyst to
contain traces of radium. Visions of multitudes of
tourists and of untold wealth doubtless now began to
float before his eyes, a prospect which we could only
view with sentiments somewhat mixed. When at
length we bade farewell, his parting benediction took
the form of the orthodox alpenstock — the eight- sided
kongo dzue, duly branded with the 07isen badge. A four
hours' scramble in the cool air of the fragrant forest
shade carried us to the saddle south of Tsubakura,
and here we halted for our lunch at ten o'clock, near
the hunter's bivouac we noticed two years ago. We
learned that a party of climbers, bound, like ourselves,
for Otenjo, had lately reached this spot, when, to their
amazement, they found a splendid bear nosing about
in the creeping-pine below the ridge. Without
stopping to ask him to look pleasant, they secured
a lucky snapshot, which so delighted them that they
abandoned the climb and hurried home to tell the
wonderful tale.

Our route lay almost entirely along the western,
and barer, side of the jagged arete, towards the
south, with the usual prospect of the wild sea of
swelling ridges westwards as far as the eye could
reach. Here and there some splendid granite crags
on the shattered ridge gave excellent climbing; in
the low creeping-pine abundant supplies of bilberries
furnished a refreshing excuse for loitering on our
way. Our life that day was indeed full of ups and
downs, for in the four hours that were spent on the
northern arete from the saddle to the summit, we
gained but little height until the last half hour, when


we rose steeply to the final peak, and Otenjo was
now a new-found friend. The lieight was 9600 ft.,
and the position of the mountain, as the western
outlier of the Yari ridge with which runs parallel its
entire length, commands a striking view.

The day was still young as we left the summit
and descended a thousand feet or so along the
southern arete to our camping- place for the night,
the so-called Ninomata koya. Here we found a long,
low hollow in the rocks, the sides partly filled in
with fragments of stone, and roofed with earth.
The creeping-pine at hand aff'orded spring mattresses
of the most comfortable kind, and after a cheery
supper by the common fire at the entrance to the
cave, we turned in to an untroubled sleep. The
new day dawned in unclouded loveliness with the
glorious prospect westwards of the great clifis and
snowy ravines of the ridge that runs from Yari to
the towers of Hodaka. To the south-east rose an
old friend of former years in Jonen-dake ("the Peak
of the Ever-praying Priest "), and, beyond that again,
Fuji, pale purple in the distant south. Always south-
wards along the arete we descended, and then through
a tangled forest of firs and birch we turned west-
wards, and dropped abruptly down a steep and
broken watercourse to the dazzling granite boulders
of the Ichi-no-Sawa glen. Beyond this a great land-
slide of mingled red rocks and earth had fallen from
the eastern flanks of Akasawa-dake, and dammed up
the waters of the Ninomata torrent into an exquisite
little lake of crystal clearness. It was a most
charming prospect, and we left it with reluctance
for a strenuous struggle with the frequent wading of


the stream beyond, vvhose waters gathered strength
and volume as they hm-ried to their confluence with
the parent Adzusa-gawa, of which the Ninomata forms
the remotest source. Here we were at last on
familiar ground, for this romantic meeting of the
waters — the Ninomata and the Yarizawa — had often
invited rest on former climbs, when Yari itself had
been the goal. As we descended the beautiful valley,
clearer traces of a path in the forest undergrowth on
either side as we crossed to and fro testified to the
growing numbers of the mountain lovers who pene-
trate these solitudes. And so the day wore on, and
waraji wore out. Quite suddenly the low, broad
roof of the old hut at Tokugo showed brown among
the birches and pines. An hour later the whole
strength of the Kamikochi household were turning
out to give us greeting at the onsen porch, and our
eleven hours' tramp from the top of Otenjo brought
the first delightful ''ridge- walking" of a European
party along its serrated ridges to a happy and success-
ful conclusion.

Our "good-bye " to Kamikochi this year was one
of special sadness, for we knew it was to be our
final farewell, and yet we dared not say so to our
friends. For the kindly sincerity of their greeting,
"Please come back next year," we had no answer.
It was no convention, we knew, nor could any
convention worthily be offered in reply. In the cool
clearness of the early morning we wended om^ way
somewhat sadly down the valley of the Adzusagawa,
and past the secluded mere of Tashiro, whose glassy
surface mirrored the grey cliffs and shining snows of
Hodaka unbroken. Our last sight of the beautiful



mountain was the noble prospect that closed in the
valley as we turned the great buttress of Kasumi-
dake, and joined the path from the Abot-oge eastwards
towards the Matsumoto plain. Over many steep
spurs and round deep bays it wanders, through dense
forests and along grassy hillsides and torrent brinks,
till suddenly it breasts an abrupt ascent to drop
down as suddenly into the secluded hollow in which
Shirahone lies. Above the ancient s]3a — for the Saito
family, its present owners, have themselves held it for
over three hundred years— towers the massive twin-
topped bulk of Norikura, an extinct volcano of great
age over 10,000 ft. in height. The mountain has
recently attracted popular attention as the scene of
an exploit by a company of Japanese infantry, who
climbed to the summit in extraordinarily quick time
in the summer of 1917. A photograph shows them
greeting, with the salute of uplifted rifles, the rising
sun, and shouting their banzai in the Emperor's

E-ound the public tanks in the onsen buildings
may be seen large boulders from the neighbouring
ravine. They are used by the hardened habitues of
the soothing waters who place them on their knees
at night to save them from "turning turtle," and
drowning in their sleep ! Such persons will often
spend three or four weeks in succession in the baths,
and that, practically, without a break. My friend
Professor Chamberlain mentions the case of a similar
kind, near Ikao, where the old caretaker stays in
the bath the whole winter through. The genial old
Saito Shidzuma, the proprietor of Shirahone, did the
honours for us with exceeding courtesy and attention,

0. M. Foole, Phot.]

Shirahone Onsen.

[To face p. 216.


and enthusiastically announced that a recent visitor,
an official of the Home Department, had assured him
t.hat the healing springs were undoubtedly impreg-
nated with radium. The gentleman in question was
known by a name signifying "the silk hat of affluence,"
and doubtless this title was regarded as of happy
omen when the cheering declaration was made ! At
any rate, it was possible to assure our old friend that
its main constituent was calcium sulphides, and that
its temperature near the source was 130°. As we
left he gave us his benediction in the form of another
Alpine staff, duly branded with the onsen mark. He
told us that my old route via Onogawa was some
miles the longer of the two available, and with a
better path, but if we cared to go by the shorter,
15 miles to Shimajima, we should find its scenery
more romantic, although the gake (precipices) were
a thing not to trifle with. Soon we plunged into a
dark ravine with the pleasing title of Oni ga jo ("the
devil's castle "), from the face of which a cascade
issues as from a window, recalling on a smaller scale
the cliffs high above the Gasteren-tal in the Gemmi
route above Kandersteg.

The romantic beauty of those 15 miles it is, for
the most part, almost impossible adequately to
describe. Perhaps the gem of this picture gallery
of Nature is at the spot where a path turns off to
Onogawa and the Nomugi-toge, on the right bank of
the river, by the foot of a magnificent cliff hung with
creepers and towering above the little tea-house of
Nagawa-do. Here the road to Shimajima broadens,
and its surface improves. A pathetic reminder of
the cost of the traveller's comfort stands by the


wayside — a memorial stone to a number of workmen
who, four years ago, in the midst of their labours,
were overwhelmed by an avalanche of rock and earth
from the cliffs whose base they were cutting through.
The unusual appearance at this moment of a number
of handsome oxen still further recalled the Gemmi
route with its reminder of the herdsmen killed, with
their cattle, by the great avalanche of the glacier of
the Altels, high above the pastures of the Spitalmatt.
Next in impressiveness to this spot, perhaps, comes
the magnificent bluff that j^rojects itself boldly into
the Adzusa valley as one nears Inekoki, a rival,
though on a far grander scale and in lovelier surround-
ings, to the famous cliffs that overshadow the Derwent
in the Matlock glen in Derbyshire.

At Shimajima we found a "cast off" carriage
awaiting us. It had been ordered for 3 p.m., and,
to be quite in time, its owner had arrived at 10 a.m.
"Time is money" is a proverb here that conveys no
meaning whatever.

MyonicM — like manana — though nominally signify-
ing "to-morrow," may more wisely be allowed the
more elastic interpretation of " any time between now
and Christmas." Still our driver wasted but little of
our time on his way, and Matsumoto saw us again —
this time, for our present convenience and to our
intense subsequent regret, deposited on the floor of
the Yoro-kwan. Its position entitles its claim to be
the " Station Hotel," but its condition belies the
translation of its name, " The Support of the Aged,"
assuming that, for such, a reasonable amount of repose
should be their nightly portion. The Buna-jaya on
Tateyama had revealed many possibilities of the


murdering of sleep in midnight Japan ; but here such
resources were increased beyond belief. Mosquitoes,
fleas, smells of every variety and intensity, barking
dogs, rumbling trains, chattering nesan (domestics),
and coolies chopping wood, all contributed their
quota to our evening's entertainment. Now we knew
we were in the pathway of progress, with the blessings
of civilisation at hand. Perhaps, however, the
greatest surprise of all, before we left, was the
appearance of a mounted khaki-clad gendarme, who
suddenly appeared from nowhere as we sat on the
edge of the matted floor of the porch. Dismounting,
he called for the landlord, and abruptly inquired who
these "foreigners" were — "Because," he explained,
"if they are Doitsu no Into (Germans), / have
special orders to take care of them ! "

As we pursued our dusty, sultry journey by
the Koshu - Kaido railway Fuji - wards that day
(25th August), two topics aff'orded special food
for reflection as we watched the behaviour of some
of our fellow-travellers, and listened to some of their
remarks upon the Great War, In neither respect
were they wholly representative, though typical of
many who acted and thought after their manner.
As to the behaviour — one marvelled that so fre-
quently in railway travelling the middle - class
Japanese are seen at their worst, and could not help
wondering why, with neatness and care in their own
delightful and artistic homes, they could cultivate
habits so off'ensive to all ideas of consideration and
"nice feeling." We were passing through the great
vineyard region of Japan, on the east edge of the
Kofu plain. Grapes were being freely consumed in


the compartment (there was no first class on this
line), yet not one of the Japanese took the trouble
to deposit the skins in the " cuspidores " at his feet,
or even put them out of the windows, wide open
in the heat of summer noon — all merely threw them
on the floor or dropped them on the seat at his side.
At least one person chose to use the wash-hand basin
as a spittoon, nor did he display sufficient thought
for others — or for decency — to wash it afterwards !
The gist of the comments on the war was that it
needed the spirit and the help of Japanese forces to
drive the Germans on the Western Front in France
and Flanders back to the Fatherland.

As time went on, and as the views of the
Japanese in general began more definitely to crystal-
lise, it became increasingly clear that very varying
attitudes were adopted by different classes of the
people. Little was understood in England, however,
as to what those attitudes were, since only the official
view was considered of sufficient importance to merit
publication in the British press at home. That view,
of course, was wholly "correct," and it was realised
that Japan would prove entirely loyal to her pledges
as embodied in her Alliance with Great Britain. But
beyond all this there was much calculated to surprise
and to disappoint those in our country when aware of
the attitude of a large number of educated Japanese
people and of military men, whose voices, though not
heard among ourselves, were clearly raised, and were
listened to with attention by many of their own
fellow-countrymen in Japan.

The columns of the Japan Chronicle from time to
time threw much interesting light on the way the war


was regarded by various sections of the population,

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 15 17 18 19 20 21 22 23

Online LibraryWalter WestonThe playground of the Far East → online text (page 15 of 23)