Hobby

One who looks in my section of Who's Who will notice that walking is my hobby.  Some fifteen years ago when I was asked about my life by its editor, I found that the item of "hobby" was difficult to satisfy, because I had no hobby that might pass under its name.  But to have nothing of it, I thought, it might bring disgrace upon my gentleman's dignity. Driven  into a corner, I might say, I put down the word of walking as my hobby. But this walking, at least in England, was supposed to be a legitimate kind of hobby for any gentleman. Especially as a hobby of an old man it is healthy, economical and proper. It is true that I know personally a few men in England who make a hobby out of walking. It sounds somewhat spiritless to become one of them; but I thought that, when walking was said to be my hobby, nobody would spin controversies out of it. As I said, it was the affair of humbug altogether; so I never happened to think whether walking suits me or not. If you accuse me with irresponsibility, I will say that I only feel small. But when in Who's Who I see many men whose hobby is walking, I cannot help feeling suspicious, smiling in thought that they might be as I am, a poor creature with no hobby to mention of. I know that nearly all my friends are better off for the matter of hobby; even when people criticise me, saying that I am a miserable fellow like a dry herring hard and tasteless, I have no word to protest against them.

But I feel sometimes terribly lonesome from very reason that I have no hobby. In the book of Issa's hokku poems which I opened not long ago, I found the following:

"Alas, thirty-six years have passed since the 6th of Anei (1772-1780) when I left my country home for life's vagabonding over ten thousand miles; thirty-six years are fifteen thousand nine hundred sixty days. How bitterly have I been subjected to application! There has not been even one day when I felt ease in my mind. But before I knew it I became a white-haired old man.

How strange it is
That I should have lived fifty years!
Hallelujah to flower's spring! [<106]

First day of spring at last!
Fifty years I've lived, . . .
Not a beggar in rush-clothes!

Alas, fifty years have passed,
Having no night
When I danced in joy."

How strongly I was impressed by the last hokku poem, since I myself, like Issa, had spent long fifty years with no night in dancing!  Issa must have been a poor fellow like myself, who, if he was asked about his hobby, had no other way to answer but with the word of walking. I have had no opportunity to suffer Issa's intense application; even though I had no chance to feel a mother's great love — I had no experience like Issa's, to suffer under step-mother's tyranny. Issa, it is said, was turned out from home when he was a boy; but from my own free will, in elated spirit, I left home toward the western country, where I spent more than ten years. Now having already passed fifty years, I look back upon the past and often think what a hard life I experienced. Indeed my fifty years were a painful series of fight in loss or gain, having no favourite pursuit in leisure to please myself. I was a miserable creature, like Issa, who "passed fifty years having no night when he danced in joy."

I used to play a game of shogi-chess when I was a boy; my usual opponent being a son of a neighbouring priest, who was a better player, beside being clever to make me irritated; I always lost the game eight times out of ten, because my passionate love of it made me more awkward and clumsy. With a great determination to beat him during my life, I played the game with him one summer night, sitting on a wooden bench which I brought out in front of my house. But fate was not kind to me again so that my king became checkmated, when at this moment of death agony I kicked off the chess-board by my foot, and exposing my cowardice, I jumped back into my house. Never again my fingers touched chessmen.

I cannot understand how the game of go-checkers is played, although I have seen its contests so often in the past. While I lived in America, I went not so seldom to a place where my countrymen get together in joy or sorrow, and I saw sometimes how they played this game. In spite of my complete ignorance with its rules, I felt some agreeable sensation running through me.  How pleasantly the checker stones sound striking the board!  I should say that the pleasure in their sound was something hard to define.  And it was so amusing to see the faces of the players [<107] with their special expression not seen in ordinary time, which, as if an autumnal sky, now became cloudy and then clear, or as if a spring bird, now sung songs and then stopped singing. It is the mischief or playfulness of the game that makes a man who is close-tongued in usual days talkative and jolly in mood, or makes a man who is simple and straight, unmask of his hidden psychology when he repeats "not yet" all the time. Since returning home, I have had hardly any occasion to see a go contest. Once some years ago when I was living in a monastery at Kamakura, I happened to hear a cool refreshing sound of the checker-stones echoing through the large rooms with sliding screens unclosed; I knew that the monk was playing the go game with a guest. But not wishing to see their contest, I only enjoyed then the rhythmical sound of the checker-stones which was most appropriate to the summer morning. It is indeed the sound that suggests Oriental solitude. If I am asked what I love in sound, I will point out, first of all, the sound of go-stones, then the sound of a wind playing fox and geese in a bamboo forest.

There was a "Chinese Town" in San Francisco of olden day, a dirty extraterritoriality where dusky weird atmosphere obscured Oriental immortality into mystery ; not the Chinese Town of late, but that of thirty years ago, revolved on its axle of gambling and harlotry. It was, in truth, a human garbage wherein Japanese labourers threw freely money which they earned with sweat. Comparing life with the game of cards, Rossetti writes:

"What be her cards, you ask? Even these:
The heart, that doth but crave 
More, having fed; the diamond,
Skilled to make base seem brave, 
The club, for smiting in the dark;
The spade, to dig a grave."

Indeed these are life's cards. A heaped gold, Rossetti sings, is found beside the card-dealer whose "eyes unravel the coiled night and know the stars at noon"; the dream that wraps her brows is wonderfully rich. We human beings surround this mysterious card-dealer, and stake all upon the cast.

When Rossetti writes about the cards flying on Life's board faster than a dancer's feet, a pale skinny Chinese in the gambling den comes to my mind, whose long fingers, so cunning and slippery like a snake, counted the buttons on the board with a bamboo stick. I was charmed strangely, I confess, by the stillness in the den, that kept for a time all the gamblers in anxiety. I was, however, a man of whom game or sport was not [<108] in blood; so I never felt to bet anything that night when my friend took me to the gambling den about which I am speaking. My friend wished me to put down his stake on his behalf; but when I obeyed him and lost the game, I was sorry for him that fate had opposed me in this new undertaking. how could the gamblers' god have smiled, I wondered, on me who cursed him ! When I gave my friend some money to cover a portion of his loss, I felt easy in my mind thinking that it relieved me somewhat from a responsibility which, however, I had taken reluctantly. One more occasion on which I showed that I was born without gambling instinct, came to me afterwards at Santa Barbara of California in South. There were many Japanese farmers who tried to kill time with buying a Chinese lottery called ''Fool's Ticket.'' They were buying it in hope that this lottery might change into a wise man's ticket. Being asked by one of the farmers, I chose for him characters of the lottery which being wise words from the analects of Confucius, were used for such a vulgar purpose as gambling. I mused, however, thinking that this Chinese lottery was not without the suggestion that in China a sage and gambler live together. Unfortunately, I could not represent these two persons myself; so you will know, without my telling, how the lottery ticket which I marked turned out. Although I had in America for a long time, where gambling might be a sort of gentleman's pursuit, I never again put my hands on any game or sport. I never saw even a game of baseball or boxing match in America.

As next thing I would like to dwell on my diet. Being a person with a sweet tooth by nature, I kept myself apart from any bottle of wine. But the majority of my old friends, strange enough, were wine-bibbers or even soakers; being sober myself, I was obliged to keep a face of pot-companion towards them, and often listen to their wild talk and sometimes chime in with pleasing remarks. A few years ago I bought some bottles of Claret which I hoped to drink for my health ; after spending one or two months to finish one bottle of them, I sent down the rest to my kitchen to be used for cooking purpose. Some friend of mine says to me: "Drink, Noguchi, you know that wine makes blood ! It is a pity that you don't drink, that is one flaw in your being a perfect jewel." Whether it is a flaw or not I cannot tell, but my teetotalism is inborn; I cannot help my nature.

I was, however, somewhat an epicure in my Western life; I went round searching after a good coffee or salad from one restaurant to another in New York or London. I was able to [<109] criticise even tamales which Spaniards are fond of, or tell you how to make a good dish out of Italian macaronis. Once I wrote the following: "it is certainly a proof of one's being a prig crank that he is fond of sea-hedgehogs or pickles of chopped fish-salt. The fellow who eats an indigestible food with joy or pain will be one quick-tempered or obstinate. People who can {not}  live without a dish of taste or food rich and heavy, something like a tempura (fried fish) or spitchcock, are often the men given up to pleasure; they are sometimes irresponsible. One who repeats pies already at the breakfast table, cannot be bad in temperament; the man who orders a toast cut to the size two inches square, or wants to boil his eggs exactly for three minutes, is a complete egoist."

When I returned home and lived in Tokyo or in its vicinity, I went round from one restaurant to another for a fried fish or broiled eels, and appeared to be a man of special taste in food. But for the past four or five years I have been neglecting them; to-day I am only a peaceful fellow, prosaic, of taste not so particular, and my diet has no distinguished hobby.

Well, and what about my clothes? There was a time, I confess, long ago, when I took pains with my neckties or shirts, and was not afraid to spend even one guinea for a pair of stockings. But to-day I am content with a proletarian necktie of one shilling, and wear it at least for one year. And the clothes, Japanese or foreign, which I am wearing today, are as old as kitchen rugs; one or two buttons of them are always off. My old wife worries about it, and sometimes says that such a careless manner in dressing is beneath my dignity. But I am a harmless; anarchist who wears a hat three years old.

Now that I have said everything, I must return to the beginning and say that walking is the one thing left to me as my hobby. I dare say that this walking is quite a suitable thing for me at present. But none the less it is a question which I must think about. When I was young, walking was my hobby, and I even took a journey on foot that lasted more than thirty days; my walking then became sometimes one of the newspaper gossips. But my faith in walking grew impaired some ten years ago, when Robert Bridges, then Poet Laureate, took me round Oxford for sightseeing. I could not walk as fast as this old poet; my walking speed was only a half or third of the speed he walked. Robert Nichols who was then an undergraduate, saw us by the roadside and murmured to himself: "Noguchi, a short-legged tortoise, runs for life after Bridges, a long-legged [<110] stork!" I do not know whether Robert Bridges gave walking in Who's Who as his hobby, but I have no right to profess it. If walking may not be my hobby, ought I not to correct Who's Who? To tell the truth, even a little walking in my garden begins to be tiresome to me now. If such a term as "Not walking" is permissible, my hobby is "Not walking"; that is to say, I sit quietly before my table in the dingy study. But you must not take me for a studious person, because it is only that I sit before the table — that is all. Therefore "Not studying" instead of "Not walking" might be a better hobby for me to-day.

 

Notes:

Reprinted: Visva-Bharati Quarterly n.s. 2 (Nov. 1936).