As Isabella writes, “The prophecies concerning difficulties are fulfilled.”
It has been raining for six days and five nights. It has been falling in sheets as she has “only seen for a few minutes at a time on the equator.”*
Everything is damp and covered in mildew. Worse yet, roads, bridges, rice-fields, trees, and hillsides are being swept “in a common ruin” towards the Tsugaru Strait, which is what separates Honshu, where she is, from Hokkaido, where she’s going. It’s “so tantalizingly near; and the simple people are calling on the forgotten gods of the rivers and hills, on the sun and moon, and all the host of heaven, to save them from this ‘plague of immoderate rain and waters.’”**
Like we are all doing now, Isabella has decided to lean into her inability to move. “as I cannot get on, I have ceased to chafe, and am rather inclined to magnify the advantages of the detention, a necessary process, as you would think if you saw my surroundings!”
Her journey to this yadoya in Ikarigaseki was harrowing. The day started wonderfully. The road was new, well-graded and blasted out of the rock in the mountain passes. She admires the view more than any she has seen in Japan, which is saying something, and the travel is easy.
Then the rain starts.
“I have been so rained upon for weeks that at first I took little notice of it, but very soon changes occurred before my eyes which concentrated my attention upon it.”
After a boom and a roar, “a hillside burst, and half the hill, with a noble forest of cryptomeria**** was projected outwards, and the trees, with the land on which they grew, went down heads foremost, diverting a river from its course, and where the forest covered hillside had been there was a great scar, out of which a torrent burst at high pressure, which in half and hour carved for itself a deep raving, and carried into the valley before an avalanche of stones and sand.”
The gorgeous road is gone — and so is any easy path forward. They cross and recross and cross again this new rushing river, with floodwaters rising around them. The waters “crashed and thundered” and trees nearly flung themselves from the hillsides. The magos tie Isabella to the saddle so that she doesn’t get washed away. “As I was helpless from being tied on,” she says, “I confess that I shut my eyes!”
After that last crossing, the men tell her the water is rising to fast and that they need to run. They unbound her, spoke to the horses, and took off.
Remember: these horses are, at best, terrible. This one had nearly worn out his shoes and stumbled at every step. The rain is falling in torrents.
“I speculated on the chance of being washed off my saddle, when suddenly, I saw a shower of sparks; I felt unutterable things; I was choked, bruised, stifled and presently found myself being hauled out of a ditch by three men, and realised that the horse had tumbled in going down a steepish hill and that I had gone over his head.”
She climbs back on, as one should, and after much running and stumbling and splashing, they make it to the town.
Her room in the yadoya is in a loft and the mud at the foot of the ladder is so deep that she wears her Wellington boots. Everything — books, clothes, food — is soaked and has been reduced to a “condition of universal stickiness.” She changes into her kimono because it is less wet than everything else, starts to take a nap, and is roused by Ito, because it looks like the bridge they’d crossed to get there was about to get washed away.
Reader: it did.
“On 30 miles of road,” she writes, “out of 19 bridges, only two remain, and the road itself is almost wholly carried away.”
* different story for a different day
** This is a much longer story but here’s a tidbit: one of our Japanese tour guides*** talked about the Japanese approach to religion (which, again, fascinating but too long for this medium). The relevant slice of that relates to the Shinto tradition of assigning god-like status to bits of nature, like rocks and trees. Our island keeps trying to kill us with volcanos and typhoons and earthquakes, she said. Maybe our offerings to small parts of it will make it stop.
*** she also described Japan as “a very moist country.” Not wrong.
**** It’s a pine tree.
(addendum: this is the mascot for the town she's in. It's a bamboo shoot who loves to run marathons.)