Then to the curio-shops! The antique shops of Kyoto give to the simple foreigner the impression that he is being received in a private home by a Japanese gentleman of leisure whose hobby is collecting. The unsuspecting prey is welcomed with cigarettes and specially honourable tea, the thick green kind like pea-soup. An autograph book is produced in which are written the names of rich and distinguished people who have visited the collection. You are asked to add your own insignificant signature. A few glazed earthenware pots appear, Tibetan temple pottery of the Han Period. They are on their way to the Winckler collection in New York, a trifle of a hundred thousand dollars.
Having pulverised the will-power of his guest, the merchant of antiquities hands him over to his myrmidons who conduct him round the shop—for it is only a shop after all. Taking accurate measurement of his purse and tastes, they force him to buy what pleases them, just as a conjurer can force a card upon his audience.
The Barringtons’ rooms at the Miyako Hotel soon became like an annex to the show-rooms in Messrs. Yamanaka’s store. Brocades and kimonos were draped over chairs and bedsteads. Tables were crowded with porcelain, cloisonne and statues of gods. Lanterns hung from the roof; and in a corner of the room stood an enormous bowl-shaped bell as big as a bath, resting on a tripod of red lacquer. When struck with a thick leather baton like a drum-stick it uttered a deep sob, a wonderful, round, perfect sound, full of the melancholy of the wind and the pine-forests, of the austere dignity of a vanishing civilisation, and the loneliness of the Buddhist Law.
There was a temple on the hill behind the hotel whence such a note reached the visitors at dawn and again at sunset. The spirit of everything lovely in the country sang in its tones; and Asako and Geoffrey had agreed, that, whatever else they might buy or not buy, they must take an echo of that imprisoned music home with them to England.
So they bought the cyclopean voice, engraved with cabalistic writing, which might be, as it professed to be, a temple bell of Yamato over five hundred years old, or else the last year’s product of an Osaka foundry for antique brass ware. Geoffrey called it “Big Ben.”
“What are you going to do with all these things?” he asked his wife.
“Oh, for our home in London,” she answered, clapping her hands and gazing with ecstatic pride at all her treasures. “It will be wonderful. Oh, Geoffrey, Geoffrey, you are so good to give all this to me!”
“But it is your own money, little sweetheart!”
* * * * *
Never did Asako seem further from her parents’ race than during the first weeks of her sojourn in her native country. She was so unconscious of her relationship that she liked to play at imitating native life, as something utterly peculiar and absurd. Meals in Japanese eating-houses amused her immensely. The squatting on bare floors, the exaggerated obeisance of the waiting-girls, the queer food, the clumsy use of chop-sticks, the numbness of her feet after being sat upon for half an hour, all would set her off in peals of unchecked laughter, so as to astonish her compatriots who naturally enough mistook her for one of themselves.