Fragrance in Literature 4-LAFCADIO HEARN(1)



'Do not fail to write down your first impressions as soon as possible,'
said a kind English professor [Basil Hall Chamberlain: PREPARATOR'S
NOTE] whom I had the pleasure of meeting soon after my arrival in Japan:
'they are evanescent, you know; they will never come to you again, once
they have faded out; and yet of all the strange sensations you may
receive in this country you will feel none so charming as these.' I am
trying now to reproduce them from the hasty notes of the time, and find
that they were even more fugitive than charming; something has
evaporated from all my recollections of them--something impossible to
recall. I neglected the friendly advice, in spite of all resolves to
obey it: I could not, in those first weeks, resign myself to remain
indoors and write, while there was yet so much to see and hear and feel
in the sun-steeped ways of the wonderful Japanese city. Still, even
could I revive all the lost sensations of those first experiences, I
doubt if I could express and fix them in words. The first charm of Japan
is intangible and volatile as a perfume.

Lafcadio Hearn(27 June 1850 – 26 September 1904) was an Irishman by birth who became an Japanese citizen and married a Japanese woman. He had a deep love and affection for traditional Japanese culture and wrote exquisitely of his experiences there. His descriptions often incorporate descriptions of olfactory experiences which give one a profound sense of the Japan of that time.
You can read more about him at:
Wikipedia article on Lafcadio Hearn
Lacadio's contribution to literature on Japan
1905 Magazine on Lafcadio
Works of Lafcadio Hearn


Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan Part 1

To the right of the temple is a little shrine, filling the air with
fragrance of incense-burning. I peer in through the blue smoke that curls up from half a dozen tiny rods planted in a small brazier full of ashes; and far back in the shadow I see a swarthy Buddha, tiara-coiffed,
with head bowed and hands joined, just as I see the Japanese praying,
erect in the sun, before the thresholds of temples. The figure is of
wood, rudely wrought and rudely coloured: still the placid face has
beauty of suggestion.


Everything has been prepared for them. In each home small boats made of
barley straw closely woven have been freighted with supplies of choice
food, with tiny lanterns, and written messages of faith and love. Seldom
more than two feet in length are these boats; but the dead require
little room. And the frail craft are launched on canal, lake, sea, or
river--each with a miniature lantern glowing at the prow, and incense
burning at the stern. And if the night be fair, they voyage long. Down
all the creeks and rivers and canals the phantom fleets go glimmering to
the sea; and all the sea sparkles to the horizon with the lights of the
dead, and the sea wind is fragrant with incense.


A long, straggling country village, between low wooded hills, with a
canal passing through it. Old Japanese cottages, dingy, neutral-tinted,
with roofs of thatch, very steeply sloping, above their wooden walls and
paper shoji. Green patches on all the roof-slopes, some sort of grass;
and on the very summits, on the ridges, luxurious growths of yaneshobu,
[1] the roof-plant, bearing pretty purple flowers. In the lukewarm air a
mingling of Japanese odours, smells of sake, smells of seaweed soup,
smells of daikon, the strong native radish; and dominating all, a sweet,
thick, heavy scent of incense,--incense from the shrines of gods.


The temple resembles outwardly and inwardly the others we have visited,
and, like those of Shaka and of the colossal Jizo of Kamakura, has a
paved floor, so that we are not obliged to remove our shoes on entering.
Everything is worn, dim, vaguely grey; there is a pungent scent of
mouldiness; the paint has long ago peeled away from the naked wood of
the pillars. Throned to right and left against the high walls tower nine
grim figures--five on one side, four on the other--wearing strange
crowns with trumpet-shapen ornaments; figures hoary with centuries, and
so like to the icon of Emma, which I saw at Kuboyama, that I ask, 'Are
all these Emma?' 'Oh, no!' my guide answers; 'these are his attendants
only--the Jiu-O, the Ten Kings.' 'But there are only nine?' I query.
'Nine, and Emma completes the number. You have not yet seen Emma.'


And our path turns sharply to the right, and winds along cliff-summits
overlooking a broad beach of dun-coloured sand; and the sea wind blows
deliciously with a sweet saline scent, urging the lungs to fill
themselves to the very utmost; and far away before me, I perceive a
beautiful high green mass, an island foliage-covered, rising out of the
water about a quarter of a mile from the mainland--Enoshima, the holy
island, sacred to the goddess of the sea, the goddess of beauty. I can
already distinguish a tiny town, grey-sprinkling its steep slope.
Evidently it can be reached to-day on foot, for the tide is out, and has
left bare a long broad reach of sand, extending to it, from the opposite
village which we are approaching, like a causeway.


'And this,' the reader may say,--'this is all that you went forth to
see: a torii, some shells, a small damask snake, some stones?'
It is true. And nevertheless I know that I am bewitched. There is a
charm indefinable about the place--that sort of charm which comes with
a little ghostly 'thrill never to be forgotten.
Not of strange sights alone is this charm made, but of numberless subtle
sensations and ideas interwoven and inter-blended: the sweet sharp
scents of grove and sea; the blood-brightening, vivifying touch of the
free wind; the dumb appeal of ancient mystic mossy things; vague
reverence evoked by knowledge of treading soil called holy for a
thousand years; and a sense of sympathy, as a human duty, compelled by
the vision of steps of rock worn down into shapelessness by the pilgrim
feet of vanished generations.

On the steps I take off my shoes; a young man slides aside the screens
closing the entrance, and bows me a gracious welcome. And I go in,
feeling under my feet a softness of matting thick as bedding. An immense
square apartment is before me, full of an unfamiliar sweet smell--the
scent of Japanese incense; but after the full blaze of the sun, the
paper-filtered light here is dim as moonshine; for a minute or two I can
see nothing but gleams of gilding in a soft gloom. Then, my eyes
becoming accustomed to the obscurity, I perceive against the paper-paned
screens surrounding the sanctuary on three sides shapes of enormous
flowers cutting like silhouettes against the vague white light. I
approach and find them to be paper flowers--symbolic lotus-blossoms
beautifully coloured, with curling leaves gilded on the upper surface
and bright green beneath, At the dark end of the apartment, facing the
entrance, is the altar of Buddha, a rich and lofty altar, covered with
bronzes and gilded utensils clustered to right and left of a shrine like
a tiny gold temple. But I see no statue; only a mystery of unfamiliar
shapes of burnished metal, relieved against darkness, a darkness behind
the shrine and altar--whether recess or inner sanctuary I cannot
distinguish.


Repeatedly, after long wearisome climbing of stone steps, and passing
under gates full of gargoyles--heads of elephants and heads of lions--
and entering shoeless into scented twilight, into enchanted gardens of
golden lotus-flowers of paper, and there waiting for my eyes to become
habituated to the dimness, I have looked in vain for images. Only an
opulent glimmering confusion of things half-seen--vague altar-
splendours created by gilded bronzes twisted into riddles, by vessels of
indescribable shape, by enigmatic texts of gold, by mysterious
glittering pendent things--all framing in only a shrine with doors fast
closed.

I go in, feeling that soft, spotless, cushioned matting beneath my feet
with which the floors of all Japanese buildings are covered. I pass the
indispensable bell and lacquered reading-desk; and before me I see other
screens only, stretching from floor to ceiling. The old man, still
coughing, slides back one of these upon the right, and waves me into the
dimness of an inner sanctuary, haunted by faint odours of incense. A
colossal bronze lamp, with snarling gilded dragons coiled about its
columnar stem, is the first object I discern; and, in passing it, my
shoulder sets ringing a festoon of little bells suspended from the
lotus-shaped summit of it.

To
the right of the throne, upon a tall-stemmed flat stand, such as
offerings to the gods are placed upon in the temples, a monstrous shape
appears, like a double-faced head freshly cut off, and set upright upon
the stump of the neck. The two faces are the Witnesses: the face of the
Woman (Mirume) sees all that goes on in the Shaba; the other face is the
face of a bearded man, the face of Kaguhana, who smells all odours, and
by them is aware of all that human beings do. Close to them, upon a
reading-stand, a great book is open, the record-book of deeds. And
between the Mirror and the Witnesses white shuddering souls await
judgment.


As we leave the temple of Kwannon behind us, there are no more dwellings
visible along the road; the green slopes to left and right become
steeper, and the shadows of the great trees deepen over us. But still,
at intervals, some flight of venerable mossy steps, a carven Buddhist
gateway, or a lofty torii, signals the presence of sanctuaries we have
no time to visit: countless crumbling shrines are all around us, dumb
witnesses to the antique splendour and vastness of the dead capital; and
everywhere, mingled with perfume of blossoms, hovers the sweet, resinous
smell of Japanese incense.

It is so narrow, the Street of the Aged Men, that by stretching out
one's arms one can touch the figured sign-draperies before its tiny
shops on both sides at once. And these little ark-shaped houses really
seem toy-houses; that in which Akira lives is even smaller than the
rest, having no shop in it, and no miniature second story. It is all
closed up. Akira slides back the wooden amado which forms the door, and
then the paper-paned screens behind it; and the tiny structure, thus
opened, with its light unpainted woodwork and painted paper partitions,
looks something like a great bird-cage. But the rush matting of the
elevated floor is fresh, sweet-smelling, spotless; and as we take off
our footgear to mount upon it I see that all within is neat, curious,
and pretty.

Weather-worn as the little inn seemed without, it is delightful within.
Its polished stairway and balconies are speckless, reflecting like
mirror-surfaces the bare feet of the maid-servants; its luminous rooms
are fresh and sweet-smelling as when their soft mattings were first laid
down.
"Lafcadio Hearn is almost as Japanese as haiku. Both are an art form, an institution in Japan. Haiku is indigenous to the nation; Hearn became a Japanese citizen and married a Japanese, taking the name Yakumo Koizumi. His flight from Western materialism brought him to Japan in 1890. His search for beauty and tranquility, for pleasing customs and lasting values, kept him there the rest of his life, a confirmed Japanophile. He became the great interpreter of things Japanese to the West. His keen intellect, poetic imagination and wonderful clear style permitted him to penetrate to the very essence of things Japanese."
from Tuttle's "publisher's foreword" to Hearn editions



In the reign of Emperor Gensei, there lived in the province of Yamato a
Buddhist priest, Tokudo Shonin, who had been in a previous birth Hold
Bosatsu, but had been reborn among common men to save their souls. Now
at that time, in a valley in Yamato, Tokudo Shonin, walking by night,
saw a wonderful radiance; and going toward it found that it came from
the trunk of a great fallen tree, a kusunoki, or camphor-tree. A
delicious perfume came from the tree, and the shining of it was like the
shining of the moon. And by these signs Tokudo Shonin knew that the wood
was holy; and he bethought him that he should have the statue of Kwannon
carved from it. And he recited a sutra, and repeated the Nenbutsu,
praying for inspiration; and even while he prayed there came and stood
before him an aged man and an aged woman; and these said to him, 'We
know that your desire is to have the image of Kwannon-Sama carved from
this tree with the help of Heaven; continue therefore, to pray, and we
shall carve the statue.'