Excerpt from The Sarashina Diary, “Diaries of Court Ladies of Old Japan“
“There is a mountain called Ashigara [Hakoné] which extends for ten and more miles and is covered with thick woods even to its base. We could have only an occasional glimpse of the sky. We lodged in a hut at the foot of the mountain. It was a dark moonless night. I felt myself swallowed up and lost in the darkness, when three singers came from somewhere. One was about fifty years old, the second twenty, and the third about fourteen or fifteen. We set them down in front of our lodging and a karakasa [large paper umbrella] was spread for them. My servant lighted a fire so that we saw them. They said that they were the descendants of a famous singer called Kobata. They had very long hair which hung over their foreheads; their faces were white and clean, and they seemed rather like maids serving in noblemen’s families. They had clear, sweet voices, and their beautiful singing seemed to reach the heavens. All were charmed, and taking great interest made them come nearer. Some one said, ‘The singers of the Western Provinces are inferior to them,’ and at this the singers closed their song with the words, ‘if we are compared with those of Naniwa’ [Osaka]. * They were pretty and neatly dressed, with voices of rare beauty, and they were wandering away into this fearful mountain. Even tears came to those eyes which followed them as far as they could be seen; and my childish heart was unwilling to leave this rude shelter frequented by these singers.
“Next morning we crossed over the mountain.** Words cannot express my fear*** in the midst of it. Clouds rolled beneath our feet. Halfway over there was an open space with a few trees. Here we saw a few leaves of aoi**** [Asarum caulescens ]. People praised it and thought strange that in this mountain, so far from the human world, was growing such a sacred plant. We met with three rivers in the mountain and crossed them with difficulty. That day we stopped at Sekiyama. Now we are in Suruga Province. We passed a place called Iwatsubo [rock-urn] by the barrier of Yokobashiri. There was an indescribably large square rock through a hole in which very cold water came rushing out.”
“Mount Fuji is in this Province. …”
skyscape photograph created with Nikon D750 f/8 1/500s 200mm 400 ISO and edited in Capture One 20 and Photoshop
*This seems to be the last line of a kind of song called Imayo, perhaps improvised by the singers; its meaning may be as follows: “You compare us with singers of the Western Provinces; we are inferior to those in the Royal City; we may justly be compared with those in Osaka.”
**Hakoné Mountain has now become a resort of tourists and a place of summer residence.
***Fear of evil spirits which probably lived in the wild, and of robbers who certainly did.
**** Aoi, or Futaba-aoi. At the great festival of the Kamo shrine in Kioto the processionists crowned their heads with the leaves of this plant, so it must have been well known.