My Japanese Wife_ A Japanese Idyl
My Japanese Wife
By Frederick A. Stokes Company.
To the real Mousmé with my love
That the present edition of “My JapaneseWife” has been called for is a sourceof satisfaction to the writer. Of previouseditions some 60,000 copies have been sold,and it is hoped the present version willprove none the less acceptable from thefact that the story has been revised and aconsiderable amount of new matter addedto it.
The author has done this to enable thefinal form of the novel to be that inwhich it was originally written, butwhich for purposes of first publication ina particular series it was necessary toalter.
April 2, 1902.
MY JAPANESE WIFE.
Mousmé is leaning over me as I write.Mousmé, a butterfly from a far Easternland, her dress of apricot silk, with a magentasatin obi (sash), a blot of brightcolour in the dulness of my English study.My Mousmé! with Dresden-china tintedcheeks, and tiny ways; playing at life, asit always seems to me, with the daintygrace of Japan, that idealised doll’s-houseland. Mousmé, who goes with me everywhere,whose bizarre clothing attractsnotice to her even when the delicatelypretty face of a child-woman with innocent,soft eyes and finely arched brows ishidden behind the ever-present fan, whichshe draws from the ample folds of her obi.
My friends at Nagasaki told me that Iwas foolish to marry a mousmé, especiallyas I was to return to England so soon.
“Why not hire one for the remainingperiod of your stay?” suggested Kotmasu,who dined with me at my little toy-likevilla so often that he began to offer adviceas a matter of course. “Misawa wouldfind you a mousmé,” he continued, “whomyou could put off as easily as an old glove.A real mousmé, not a geisha girl with apast, an ambiguous present, and a who-knows-whatfuture.”
Others of my friends laughed till theymade the paper partitions of my houseshiver like the strings and parchment ofthe samisen. “You will tire of her,” saidthey.
Yet others with a knowing smile, “Shewill tire of you. They are all the same.Butterflies that change with the day.Moths which the night-air of reality blowsto pieces.”
But I would not be advised.
Advice is so cheap one seldom values it.Besides, had I not lived in Japan longenough to know what I was doing?
The only soul on earth who could havedeterred me was Lou, that terrible sisterwho, before I had come out East, hadformulated so many plans for my “settlingdown!” Who had selected—much as shewould have a bonnet or a dress, and withalmost as much care—several nice girls,any one of whom she had thought wouldmake me a good wife. But Lou wasthousands of miles away—how I revelledin that fact!—and would only be madewise after the event. Now as Mousmé islooking over me as I write—she knows asmuch English as I Japanese—I must setdown how I met her.
It was one night at the Tea-house(chaya) of the Plum Grove. I had comeup there with Kotmasu. The djins, bare-legged,panting runners, had rushed usalong in the inevitable rikishas to thissuburban resort up the hillside.
The town, illuminated with thousandsof lanterns hung outside even the smallestof the houses, became, as we climbed upwardsto our destination, a fairyland ofcolour and delight, as it always did atnightfall. In the silent waters of the harbourthis gay scene was repeated by reflectionin the glassy surface.
Upwards we went, Kotmasu and I; hecalling to me every now and then, as hisrikisha, spider-like phantom of a vehicle,was momentarily lost in the gloom to reappearjust as suddenly in the patch oflight thrown by some paper lantern swingingto mark the gateway of a villa retiredfrom the road.
A Japanese night! Balmy, delicious;intoxicating with the odour of the flowerswhich came sweeping down on us in thebreath of the mountain air, or creeping invaried scents over the hedges or toy-likefences of the gardens we passed; so soothingthat Kotmasu, more used to the joltingof the rikisha than I, felt drowsy, and leftoff talking.
The sounds of the town, the music ofguitars or samisens being played in thetea-houses or gaming-houses, had growngradually indistinct and distant. Nowscarcely any noise save the whirring chirpof the cicalas broke the still, sweet-scentedair.
Soon we reached our goal, where I wasfated to meet and be enslaved by thecharms of Hyacinth—for so Mousmé wascalled. Above us, an inky mass againstan indigo sky starred with points of light,rose the mountain, tree-clad, as I knew, onwhose sides gleamed here and there thebeams of light emanating from paper lanternsor paper-shuttered casements, markingthe presence of houses or huts deep-setamong the fantastic greenery of the woods.
“Will the sir get out?” exclaimed mydjin respectfully, panting with the exertionof the ascent. I climbed down intothe darkness, almost falling over Kotmasu,who had already alighted, laughing at ouradventure.
Beside us, just where our rikishas haddrawn up, was the ghostly gatewaymarking the entrance to the tea-garden,which lay at the top of a narrow pathsloping upward; this wooden gatewaypainted Indian red and white, the whitetimbers showing like some spectral skeletonin the dusky gloom.
“Up there, sir,” pointed my djin, whobowed low whilst acting as spokesman.
Telling them not to wait, because weshould, as Kotmasu put it, “be manyhours,” we two entered the gateway, whichmarked the line of the palings of bamboo,and made our way up the narrow flower-borderedpath to the chaya.
Through an avenue of sweet odours wewalked, the mingled scent of tea-roses,gardenias and the soil making the atmospherealmost cloying with sweetness.
This wonderful garden of the tea-house,with its miniature ponds, bridges andgrottoes, now all hidden in the darkness,was mysterious and even uncanny as allEastern gardens are at dusk.
Set back a little from the path were serriedranks of sentinel-like sunflowers, ofwhose black, vacant faces, yellow-fringed,I felt conscious, staring at me out of thegloom.
A turn of the path and we were in afairyland, whose existence none a hundredyards off would have suspected. Lightfor darkness; sounds in the place ofsilence.
We made our way beneath the paperlanterns of many hues, suspended in mid-airby slender, undistinguishable cords:dragons, green, yellow or red, as theirbellying background of variegated paperdemanded or the taste of the artist dictated,are there; and cats, monstrous andeccentric-limbed, such as provoke memoriesof such things drawn on slates in childhood’sdays.
There is a flood of yellow, orange, whiteand blue light on the paths and flower-bedsstocked thick with asters, zinnias,strange fringed-edged ragged carnationsand chrysanthemums, whilst bushesclipped and trained into fantastic shapesform climbing stations, so to speak, forhuge and lesser convolvuli.
Through the paper shutters of the houseitself stream more light and sounds ofmusic played upon the samisen.
Kotmasu, an habitué, knocks upon thelacquer panel of the big door, which isspeedily drawn back in its grooved-way.The wife of Takeakira the proprietor appearsat the opening, a queer little oldwoman, silhouetted, with all the uglinesswhich so often comes with age, against abackground of light; behind her a prettyattendant mousmé, just as if she was afigure taken from a vase. Both bow solow on recognising visitors that their facestouch the floor, and then they take off ourshoes.
The mousmé conducts us upstairs, alonga narrow passage, over the floor of whichis stretched, stainless and wrinkleless, amatting of bamboo fibre, into a room whichis bare and clean-looking almost to desperationand chilliness.
“Shibaraku,” says the mousmé, addressingus both with a smile of welcome, asshe leads the way, which speech Kotmasutells me is meant for him, as well as thesmile and show of white teeth betweenpretty red lips. Perhaps it is, “What along time since you have been here!” beingobviously inapplicable to me on a firstvisit.
The paper walls of the room—spotlesslyclean—into which we are eventually usheredwith a great amount of ceremoniousbowing, are just like those in my ownlittle doll’s-house of a villa down in theoutskirts of Nagasaki—mere sliding panels,each one in its own ingenious groove.And these by some wonderful process allfit into one another and mysteriously disappear.It is here we have to wait; inthis bare room, with its long verandahrunning in front of it, from which “TheGarden of a Thousand Lights,” as its proprietorloved to call it, can be seen; andin the daytime the harbour, an irregularsegment of the ocean beyond, calm, green,but animated by the presence of sampans—gondola-like,graceful, with indigo beaksand queer odd-shaped cabins—junks withsails of matting, traders of all nations,hulking colliers, and here and there a man-of-warbelonging to a friendly or unfriendlyPower.
We are given squares of matting onwhich to squat, in lieu of chairs, by theever-smiling mousmé, who then standsmute, awaiting our orders.
“Are there no other guests?” asks Kotmasu,with a quick glance at the littlestanding figure.
“Yes, several,” replies the mousmé,smiling. And, as though to verify herwords, and dispel Kotmasu’s enigmatic andsomewhat incredulous smile, we hear unmistakablesounds of hilarity arising fromthe room beneath our feet, and from a distantchamber on our right.
“But,” continued our mousmé, glancingcuriously at me, and adjusting her obi ofsome flower-sprinkled material with minutecare, “the English sirs mostly like tofeast alone.” Such was, at all events,Kotmasu’s translation of the remark.
Kotmasu orders our repast; it is to beultra-Japanese.
Sometimes at my own villa I regale himand seek to revive my own gastronomicmemories with pseudo-European fare,which he pretends to like, but in realityloathes because of its immense portions—inthe estimation of my Japanese chef; atthese I always laugh because the mealseems so grotesquely disproportionate toone’s needs—in Japan.
There is another reason than that sonaïvely given—“the English sirs mostlycare to feast alone”—by the almond-eyedmousmé; and Kotmasu explains it whenthe dainty little figure has disappearedthrough a sliding door to execute ourorders. I must not set it down here.What is common and picturesque inJapan, is so unspeakable in English.Kotmasu sits silent, thinking of the mealto come, perhaps, in which “teal duck,”raw spinach, raw shrimps, and even dog,were to find a place—all save the first,thank goodness, in minute proportions.
The sounds of revelry by night wenton all the while that Kotmasu and Iwaited, coming to us softened and indistinctthrough chinks in the floor andthrough the paper panels forming thewalls of the room—the voices of womenand the accompanying music of the samisen,with its note of sadness. Then weheard the muffled sounds of the feet ofgeishas dancing, in their shoeless, glidingmotions.
The strains of the monotonous music,punctuated with Japanese phrases, echoedin the bare passage outside.
Kotmasu got up and opened the door ofgrey paper leading on to the verandah,which had black and vermilion storks inflight across its two long panels.
We stepped out.
I for the first time; for Kotmasu I cannotanswer. The sounds of the music becameclearer, because the others had alsoslid back their paper doors, perhaps sothat the sweet-scented air of the gardenmight enter, or a whiff of fresh night-windfrom off the mountain come in tocool the breathless geishas.
The garden of a thousand lights, withits fountain of doll-like dimensions, in thelower and larger basin of which swimgold, silver and copper-hued fish, lies justbeneath our verandah, and, after an artificialplateau, runs away down-hill into thedarkness, following each side of the narrow,flower-edged path.
The paper lanterns with painted, bulgingsides, some round, some like two mortar-boardsof college days which had takeneach other into partnership, some likeelongated helmets of a Uhlan, and otherslike monstrous fishes, birds, or reptilesswimming and floating in ether, diffuse asoft, subdued light. A puff of air makesthe whole lot swing to and fro so wildly,with a rustle of their paper emptiness,that Kotmasu and I are set wondering idlywhether an immense lantern, meant to representa gold-fish with vermilion fins andblack vertebra, which is obviously troubledin its interior, will not flare up and