Neither the snow nor the other of Nature’s discouragements can keep the Japanese for long indoors. Perhaps it is because their own houses are so draughty and uncomfortable.
This day they were out in their thousands, men and women, drifting aimlessly along the pavements, as is their wont, wrapped in grey ulsters, their necks protected by ragged furs, pathetic spoils of domestic tabbies, and their heads sheltered under those wide oil-paper umbrellas, which have become a symbol of Japan in foreign eyes, the gigantic sunflowers of rainy weather, huge blooms of dark blue or black or orange, inscribed with the name and address of the owner in cursive Japanese script.
Most of these people are wearing ashida, high wooden clogs perilous to the balance, which raise them as on stilts above the street level and add to the fantastical appearance of these silent shuffling multitudes.
The snow falls, covering the city’s meannesses, its vulgar apings of Americanisms, its crude advertisements. On the other hand, the true native architecture asserts itself, and becomes more than ever attractive. The white purity seems to gather all this miniature perfection, these irregular roofs, these chalet balconies, these broad walls and studies in rock and tree under a close-fitting cape, its natural winter garment.
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The first chill of the rough weather kept Geoffrey and Asako by their fireside. But the indoor amenities of Japanese hotel life are few. There is a staleness in the public rooms and an angular discord in the private sitting-rooms, which condemn the idea of a comfortable day of reading, or of writing to friends at home about the Spirit of the East. So at the end of the first half of a desolate afternoon, a visit to the Embassy suggested itself.
They left the hotel, ushered on their way by bowing boy sans; and in a few minutes an unsteady motor-car, careless of obstacles and side-slips, had whirled them through the slushy streets into the British compound, which only wanted a robin to look like the conventional Christmas card.
It was a pleasant shock, after long traveling through countries modernized in a hurry, to be received by an English butler against a background of thick Turkey carpet, mahogany hall table and Buhl clock. It was like a bar of music long-forgotten to see the fall of snowy white cards accumulating in their silver bowl.
Lady Cynthia Cairns’s drawing-room was not an artistic apartment; it was too comfortable for that. There were too many chairs and sofas; and they were designed on broad lines for the stolid, permanent sitting of stout, comfortable bodies. There were too many photographs on view of persons distinguished for their solidity rather than for their good looks, the portraits of the guests whom one would expect to find installed in those chairs. A grand piano was there; but the absence of any music in its neighbourhood indicated that its purpose was chiefly to symbolize harmony in the home life, and to provide a spacious crush-room for the knick-knacks overflowing from many tables. These were dominated by a large signed photograph of Queen Victoria. In front of an open fireplace, where bright logs were crackling, slept an enormous black cat on a leopard’s skin hearthrug.