The character of the shops changed as the Barringtons and their party approached their destination. The native element predominated more and more. The wares became more and more inexplicable. There were shops in which gold Buddhas shone and brass lamps for temple use, shops displaying queer utensils and mysterious little bits of things, whose secret was hidden in the cabalistic signs of Chinese script. There were stalls of curios, and second-hand goods spread out on the pavement, under the custody of wizened, inattentive old men, who squatted and smoked.
Red-faced maids stared at the foreigners from the balconies of lofty inns and eating-houses near Uyeno station. Further on, they passed the silence of old temple walls, the spaciousness of pigeon-haunted cloisters, and the huge high-pitched roofs of the shrines, with their twisted horn-like points. Then, down a narrow alley appeared the garish banners of the Asakusa theatres and cinema palaces. They heard the yelling of the door-touts, and the bray of discordant music. They caught a glimpse of hideous placards whose crude illustrations showed the quality of the performance to be seen within, girls falling from aeroplanes, demon ghosts with bloody daggers, melodrama unleashed.
Everywhere the same crowds loitered along the pavements. No hustle, no appearance of business save where a messenger-boy threaded the maze on a break-neck bicycle, or where a dull-faced coolie pulled at an overloaded barrow. Grey and brown, the crowd clattered by on their wooden shoes. Grey and black, passed the haikara young men with their yellow side-spring shoes. Black and sabre-dragging, the policeman went to and fro, invisibly moored to his wooden sentry-box.
The only bright notes among all these drab multitudes were the little girls in their variegated kimonos, who fluttered in and out of the entrances, and who played unscolded on the footpaths. These too were the only notes of happiness; for their grown-up relatives, especially the women, carried an air, if not an actual expression, of animal melancholy, the melancholy of driven sheep or of cows ruminant.
The crowds were growing denser. Their faces were all set in one direction. At last the whole roadway was filled with the slow-moving tide. The Harringtons and their friends had to alight from their car and continue the rest of the way on foot.
“They are all going to see the show,” Reggie explained to his party, and he pointed to a line of high houses, which stood out above the low native huts. It was a square block of building some hundreds of yards long, quite foreign in character, having the appearance of factory buildings, or of a barracks or workhouse.
“What a dismal-looking place!” said Asako.
“Yes,” agreed Reggie, “but at night it is much brighter. It is all lit up from top to bottom. It is called the Nightless City.”
“What bad faces these people have!” said Asako, who was romantically set on seeing evil everywhere, “Is it quite safe?”