Blue vision of depth lost in height,—sea and sky interblending through luminous haze. The day is of spring, and the hour morning.
Only sky and sea,—one azure enormity…. In the fore, ripples are catching a silvery light, and threads of foam are swirling. But a little further off no motion is visible, nor anything save color: dim warm blue of water widening away to melt into blue of air. Horizon there is none: only distance soaring into space,—infinite concavity hollowing before you, and hugely arching above you,—the color deepening with the height. But far in the midway-blue there hangs a faint, faint vision of palace towers, with high roofs horned and curved like moons,—some shadowing of splendor strange and old, illumined by a sunshine soft as memory.
…What I have thus been trying to describe is a kakémono,—that is to say, a Japanese painting on silk, suspended to the wall of my alcove;—and the name of it is Shinkirō, which signifies “Mirage.” But the shapes of the mirage are unmistakable. Those are the glimmering portals of Hōrai the blest; and those are the moony roofs of the Palace of the Dragon-King;—and the fashion of them (though limned by a Japanese brush of to-day) is the fashion of things Chinese, twenty-one hundred years ago….
Thus much is told of the place in the Chinese books of that time:—
In Hōrai there is neither death nor pain; and there is no winter. The flowers in that place never fade, and the fruits never fail; and if a man taste of those fruits even but once, he can never again feel thirst or hunger. In Hōrai grow the enchanted plants So-rin-shi, and Riku-gō-aoi, and Ban-kon-tō, which heal all manner of sickness;—and there grows also the magical grass Yō-shin-shi, that quickens the dead; and the magical grass is watered by a fairy water of which a single drink confers perpetual youth. The people of Hōrai eat their rice out of very, very small bowls; but the rice never diminishes within those bowls,—however much of it be eaten,—until the eater desires no more. And the people of Hōrai drink their wine out of very, very small cups; but no man can empty one of those cups,—however stoutly he may drink,—until there comes upon him the pleasant drowsiness of intoxication.
All this and more is told in the legends of the time of the Shin dynasty. But that the people who wrote down those legends ever saw Hōrai, even in a mirage, is not believable. For really there are no enchanted fruits which leave the eater forever satisfied,—nor any magical grass which revives the dead,—nor any fountain of fairy water,—nor any bowls which never lack rice,—nor any cups which never lack wine. It is not true that sorrow and death never enter Hōrai;—neither is it true that there is not any winter. The winter in Hōrai is cold;—and winds then bite to the bone; and the heaping of snow is monstrous on the roofs of the Dragon-King.
Nevertheless there are wonderful things in Hōrai; and the most wonderful of all has not been mentioned by any Chinese writer. I mean the atmosphere of Hōrai. It is an atmosphere peculiar to the place; and, because of it, the sunshine in Hōrai is whiter than any other sunshine,—a milky light that never dazzles,—astonishingly clear, but very soft. This atmosphere is not of our human period: it is enormously old,—so old that I feel afraid when I try to think how old it is;—and it is not a mixture of nitrogen and oxygen. It is not made of air at all, but of ghost,—the substance of quintillions of quintillions of generations of souls blended into one immense translucency,—souls of people who thought in ways never resembling our ways. Whatever mortal man inhales that atmosphere, he takes into his blood the thrilling of these spirits; and they change the sense within him,—reshaping his notions of Space and Time,—so that he can see only as they used to see, and feel only as they used to feel, and think only as they used to think. Soft as sleep are these changes of sense; and Hōrai, discerned across them, might thus be described:—
—Because in Hōrai there is no knowledge of great evil, the hearts of the people never grow old. And, by reason of being always young in heart, the people of Hōrai smile from birth until death—except when the Gods send sorrow among them; and faces then are veiled until the sorrow goes away. All folk in Hōrai love and trust each other, as if all were members of a single household;—and the speech of the women is like birdsong, because the hearts of them are light as the souls of birds;—and the swaying of the sleeves of the maidens at play seems a flutter of wide, soft wings. In Hōrai nothing is hidden but grief, because there is no reason for shame;—and nothing is locked away, because there could not be any theft;—and by night as well as by day all doors remain unbarred, because there is no reason for fear. And because the people are fairies—though mortal—all things in Hōrai, except the Palace of the Dragon-King, are small and quaint and queer;—and these fairy-folk do really eat their rice out of very small bowls, and drink their wine out of very, very small cups….
—Much of this seeming would be due to the inhalation of that ghostly atmosphere—but not all. For the spell wrought by the dead is only the charm of an Ideal, the glamour of an ancient hope;—and something of that hope has found fulfillment in many hearts,—in the simple beauty of unselfish lives,—in the sweetness of Woman….
—Evil winds from the West are blowing over Hōrai; and the magical atmosphere, alas! is shrinking away before them. It lingers now in patches only, and bands,—like those long bright bands of cloud that trail across the landscapes of Japanese painters. Under these shreds of the elfish vapor you still can find Hōrai—but not elsewhere…. Remember that Hōrai is also called Shinkirō, which signifies Mirage,—the Vision of the Intangible. And the Vision is fading,—never again to appear save in pictures and poems and dreams….
1・THE STORY OF MIMI-NASHI-HŌÏCHI | 2・OSHIDORI | 3・THE STORY OF O-TEI | 4・UBAZAKURA | 5・DIPLOMACY | 6・OF A MIRROR AND A BELL | 7・JIKININKI | 8・MUJINA | 9・ROKURO-KUBI | 10・A DEAD SECRET | 11・YUKI-ONNA | 12・THE STORY OF AOYAGI | 13・JIU-ROKU-ZAKURA | 14・THE DREAM OF AKINOSUKÉ | 15・RIKI-BAKA | 16・HI-MAWARI | 17・HŌRAI