chapter  12
9 Pages

Terror in the Dark

LA F CAD I 0 had complained to Hendrick that it was difficult to think of art 'in the dead waste and muddle of this mess', the streets of Tokyo. Yet these streets did provide much of the inspiration for the book which was then in incubation, Exotics and Retrospectives. Specifically, the inspiration for the chapter, 'Insect Musicians', the first of many essays he was to write on insects, came from a visit in 1897 to a little-known part of Tokyo, all ablaze with lanterns thirty feet high and painted with weird devices. His attention was caught by the insect-sellers and he bought a number of insects, reflecting that only a poetical people could have ' .. .imagined the luxury of buying summer voices to make for them the illusion of nature where there is only dust and mud'. 1

Lafcadio observed that few sense impressions remained longer with the traveller than sounds in a strange country. This was particularly so in Japan with insects and, to a lesser extent, with frogs. Their proliferation in the streets may have disgusted him, but the Japanese's appreciation of their aesthetic qualities made the frogs worthy of a separate chapter in Exotics and Retrospectives. Because there was rice everywhere in Japan, so also were there frogs:

Hushed only during the later autumn and brief winter, with the first awakening of spring waken all the voices of the marsh-lands,- the infinite bubbling chorus that might be taken for the speech of the quickening soil itself And the universal mystery of life seems to thrill with a peculiar melancholy in that vast utterance. . .2