Houses of Sleep
Willow Woman
East West
Decline of Taste
Note on Yeats
Oscar Wilde
Again on Hokku
On Poetry
Again on Poetry
Morning Fancy
Ink Slab 





I LOOKED aside through the window where the young-green willow branches, to use a Japanese phrase, almost smoked in uneasiness like the love-touched heart of a girl, when our talk (nothing better than an informal talk on art and poetry to fill an hour of an April afternoon already grown gold and slow) flagged; we three found a haven from the city's noise by a little table at the restaurant off Ginza, the Boulevard of Tokyo. My friend-composer finished his cup of tea, and took up again his talk where he had left off.
    "Once I made the late Mr. K., the well-recognised Japanese musician connected with the Kabukiza Theatre, listen to the tune of Payne's 'Home, Sweet Home.' What did he say, do you suppose, when it was over ? You are mistaken to think his musical mind rightly responded when he appeared fallen in meditation; he said to my amazement: 'That was very grand.' And he said further that he would like to play it, for instance, at the scene first or last, where many samurais in formal [<45] dress, sitting in perfect order, were ready to speak their greeting of New Year's Day to their lord just stepped out from within ; indeed, that was what I never expected to hear. However, I was amused to think it was another instance to prove how differently in music the Japanese mind, at least, the old Japanese mind, is pleased to work from the West; you can imagine how mystified he looked when I told him about the nature of tune I had played him."
    This delightful talker looked upon me as if he wanted my word to endorsement; my mind grew at once alive, being given an interesting subject even for serious consideration ; and I said:
    "I had my own experiences not only once when I found myself in exactly the same situation as that Mr. K.; it was in the earlier days of my American life, when my exotic Japanese mind was still far from being acclimatised in the West. Once in New York, my American friend took me one evening to a certain Webber and Field to see the so-called artists in the 'cake-walk'-whether they were [<46] negroes or whites I hardly remember now—that fantastic way of step on the stage most popular in those days. I knew that I could not help laughing when I saw the players with stove-pipe hat red or blue, with ribboned huge cane in hand, leaping across the stage like vagarious spirits who had dethroned themselves of their own free will; but once when I closed my eyes to give my sense of hearing full play, what do you suppose? I confess that my tears strangely fell without being called. My friend said sarcastically : 'is it a Japanese way to cry when you are jolly ?' When he meant that we Japanese often act in the reverse, and generally speaking, that we are paradoxical people by nature, I think that somehow he hit the right mark; but I dismissed the whole thing without answering him, because it was a question too complicated to explain in one breath. And I am sure that he would have asked me why, even if I had told him simple that the music merry to him sounded to me sadly."
    "Dr. C., you know, the German professor at the Musical College," my friend-composer interrupted me, as, doubtless, he wished to say [<47] something before he forgot it, " most savagely denies even to-day after twenty years' residence here, our having any harmony in music; but the fact is that our Japanese mind is most deliciously, tenderly, sadly moved where the Western mind finds it most unsatisfactory. Listen to a samisen music (which is said in the West to be nothing more than a noise wild or primitive at the best) in a little lyrical tune, for instance, with the song which you (Yone Noguchi) translated :

His haori
She hid,
His sleeves
She held.
Must you go, my lord,'
Says she.
From the lattice window
She slid
The Shoji slight,
And she cries:
Don't you see the snow?'
Our Japanese mind, I believe, through the hereditary sense of hearing which is suddenly awakened by the shrill of a ghost in tune of [<49] this samisen, the three-stringed instrument, not wild to us, but suggestive, not primitive but quite complex, will soon become impassioned into imagination; I dare say that we shall feel even a physical pain from love that the tune inspires, the love intensified into a feeling of sensuality. It is at such a moment when we forget the world and life, and pray to enshrine ourselves in love; why is it the samisen, does make us feel so, while having no power at all to command the foreign mind ? "
    "Not only in our sense of hearing "—I again resumed the chance to speak—"the other senses, whether they be five or ten, also work quite differently from those of the Westerners; and I cannot forget one instance to make me think that the American sense of seeing is a thing of a different order; that was the case of Sada Yacco and her company when they presented to the San Francisco audience, Well, long ago, the sad [scene] of the farewell of Kusuoki and his little son. We thought it most strange when the saddest part to us Japanese made almost no impression on the American mind; of course, their ignorance of [<49] the Japanese language counted a great deal; but when the sad facial expression of the Japanese players was taken as that of violence or anger, we thought that the matter was altogether hopeless."
    "Does not such misunderstanding of the East with the West or the West with the East," ventured my other friend at the table, "exist also in literature and poetry?"
    "I myself experienced as a writer in English that my own meaning or imagination was often wrongly taken ; I can say at least that I found frequently that they were not fully understood although it might be true, as a certain English critic commented on me the other day with his learned authority that I relied too much upon the words, that is to say, that I attempted to make them express too many colours and meanings. I dare say (is it my Oriental pride?) that the Western minds are not yet wide open to accept our Japanese imagination and thoughts as they are. It is a short cut, I have often thought, to look in a book of English translations from the Japanese, when we want to know the exact weakness of the English [<50] language and literary mind. Last night, before I went to bed, I opened the pages of English translation of our hokkus, wherein the following piece was declared to be the most delicate:— Thought I, the fallen flowers
Are returning to their branch;
But lo I they are butterflies.
While I do not say that that is particularly poor, I never thought before, like many another Japanese I am sure, it was so good as a Japanese poem ; if it means anything, it is the writer's ingenuity perhaps in finding a simile; but I wonder where is its poetical charm when it is expressed thus definitely. Definiteness is one of the English traits, I believe ; and again, it is the strength of the English language and letters, but it is strange enough that it turns at once to weakness when applied to our Japanese thoughts and fancies of indefiniteness. To call the Japanese language ungrammatical, the Japanese mind vague, does no justice to them their beauty is in their soaring out of the state of definiteness. Sadness in English is quite another word from joy or beauty; it is very [<51] seldom that it expresses the other; but more often in our Japanese poetry they are the same thing; but with a different shade. 'Sadness in beauty or joy' is a phrase created comparatively recently in the West; even when sadness is used with the other in one breath, it is not from our Japanese understanding ; for us Japanese, the words never exist apart from our colour and meaning. Not only in langauge but also in real life's action, is it so ; it was the art of poetry of Monzaemon Chikamatsu, the great Japanese dramatist, that he made the cases of double tragedy of two unfortunate lovers (this most favourite subject) most beautiful and joyous ; for them it was a joy and beauty to go to death through love. We have a phrase: 'We cry with our eyes, and smile in heart.' As we have no right [expression], let us admit for a little while the phrase 'the paradoxical Japanese' ; such a main trait of the Japanese makes it difficult for the Western mind to understand us ; and again it is why our poetry is a sealed book in the West."