The wind was dead against us, and the strong breeze, which steadily increased, seemed as if the country were blowing with all its might, in a vain effort to drive us away from its shores. The sea, the rigging, the vessel itself, all vibrated and quivered as if with emotion.
By three o’clock in the afternoon all these far-off objects were close to us, so close that they overshadowed us with their rocky masses and deep green thickets.
We entered a shady channel between two high ranges of mountains, oddly symmetrical—like stage scenery, very pretty, though unlike nature. It seemed as if Japan were opened to our view through an enchanted fissure, allowing us to penetrate into her very heart.
Nagasaki, as yet unseen, must be at the extremity of this long and peculiar bay. All around us was exquisitely green. The strong sea-breeze had suddenly fallen, and was succeeded by a calm; the atmosphere, now very warm, was laden with the perfume of flowers. In the valley resounded the ceaseless whirr of the cicalas, answering one another from shore to shore; the mountains reechoed with innumerable sounds; the whole country seemed to vibrate like crystal. We passed among myriads of Japanese junks, gliding softly, wafted by imperceptible breezes on the smooth water; their motion could hardly 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 castle-like in the air, reminding one of the towering ships of the Middle Ages. In the midst of the verdure 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 depths 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 manoeuvred by small, yellow, naked men, with long hair piled up on their heads in feminine fashion. Gradually, as we advanced farther up the green channel, the perfumes became more penetrating, and the monotonous chirp of the cicalas swelled out like an orchestral crescendo. Above us, against the luminous sky, sharply delineated between the mountains, a kind of hawk hovered, screaming out, with a deep, human voice, “Ha! Ha! Ha!” its melancholy call prolonged by the echoes.
All this fresh and luxuriant nature was of a peculiar Japanese type, which seemed to impress itself even on the mountain-tops, and produced the effect of a too artificial prettiness. The trees were grouped in clusters, with the pretentious grace shown on 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 if artificially created.