Nagasaki, as yet unseen, must be at the extremity of this long and curious bay. All around us was admirably green. The strong sea-breeze had suddenly fallen, and was succeeded by a perfect calm; the atmosphere, now very warm, was laden with the perfume of flowers. In the valley resounded the ceaseless whirr of the cicalas, answering each other from one shore to another; the mountains reechoed with innumerable sounds; the whole country seemed to vibrate like crystal. On our way we passed among myriads of Japanese junks, gliding softly, wafted by imperceptible breezes on the unruffled water; their motion could scarcely be heard, and their white sails, stretched out on yards, fell languidly in a thousand horizontal folds like window-blinds, their strangely contorted poops rising up castlewise in the air, reminding one of the towering ships of the middle ages. In the midst of the intense greenery of this wall of mountains, they stood out with a snowy whiteness.
What a country of verdure and shade is Japan; what an unlooked-for Eden!
Beyond us, at sea, it must have been full daylight; but here, in the recesses of the valley, we already felt the impression of evening; beneath the summits in full sunlight, the base of the mountains and all the thickly wooded parts near the water’s edge were steeped in twilight.
The passing junks, gleaming white against the background of dark foliage, were silently and dexterously maneuvered by small yellow men, stark naked, with long hair piled up in womanlike fashion on their heads. Gradually, as we advanced further up the green channel, the perfumes became more penetrating, and the monotonous chirp of the cicalas swelled out like an orchestral crescendo. Above us, on the luminous sky, sharply delineated between the mountains, a species of hawk hovered about, screaming out with a deep human voice, “Han! Han! Han!” its melancholy call lengthened out by the surrounding echoes.
All this fresh and luxurious nature bore the impress of a peculiar Japanese type, which seemed to pervade even the mountain tops, and consisted, as it were, in an untruthful aspect of too much prettiness. The trees were grouped in clusters, with the same pretentious grace as on the lacquered trays. Large rocks sprang up in exaggerated shapes, side by side with rounded lawn-like hillocks; all the incongruous elements of landscape were grouped together as though it were an artificial creation.
Looking intently, here and there might be seen, often built in counterscarp on the very brink of an abyss, some old, tiny, mysterious pagoda; half hidden in the foliage of the overhanging trees; bringing to the minds of new arrivals such as ourselves, the sense of unfamiliarity and strangeness; and the feeling that in this country, the Spirits, the Sylvan Gods, the antique symbols, faithful guardians of the woods and forests, were unknown and uncomprehended.
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