Seeing The Silk Worms At Work In Japan
( Originally Published 1915 )
The ride to Noyama is over one of the most beautiful roads to be found in the Empire. All roads are good, as a rule, but this was exception-ally smooth, and the boys were so busily engaged talking with Mr. Crowell that they failed to notice the particular places of interest until their attention was specially directed to them.
Since they left San Francisco, twenty-four days previous to this time, they had not heard one word from the United States and the long-expected letters from Mr. Castleton, and from Stanwood's uncle, Mr. Bailey, had not reached them.
"You will be in Japan for some time, and I can arrange to have all mail sent to Nagasaki for you," said Mr. Crowell, upon learning of their disappointment.
"It is kind of you to take the trouble, and we are greatly obliged to you," said Winfield. "We may be three weeks in Japan, about three weeks longer."
Mr. Crowell was just as much delighted to meet the genuine American boys and to hear them talk as were they to meet him. He was a Yale man, and a former member of the football team, so was interested in the sport. The boys were also enthusiasts, and when this is the case there seems to be a sort of common brotherhood, the feeling of which is intensified by the meeting in a far off country.
Long before the city was reached the environs indicated the existence of a large city, and Stanwood was the first to notice it.
"Nagoya must be a pretty large city," he said.
"Yes it has about 375,000 people and is a beautiful place. It is right at the head of Owari Bay, and when you stand at the headland west of the city and look south along the great stretch of the sea for more than fifty miles you can see a panorama of vessels which is not equaled anywhere in the world," said Mr. Crowell.
"Why are there so many vessels there?" asked Winfield.
"That is where the great fisheries are found. The fishermen have little vessels with square white sails, and they shine in the sunlight and make a beautiful sight."
Almost the first object they saw was a temple, and then another. These are the churches of Japan. "I didn't know that they had more than one temple in each place," said Stanwood.
"They call all of these places temples, because they are places of worship, just like the churches at home."
But do they have different religions over here, just as we have?" inquired Winfield.
"Certainly; but the principal creeds over here are Buddhism and Confucianism. The former is the religion of the common people, while the nobles and the rich people embrace the latter."
"But several times we heard people talking about Shintoism," said Stanwood.
"Shintoism is not a religion. It is a sort of cult, the main thing being the worship of the spirits of their ancestors. They have neither priests nor idols, nor do they teach anything about the present or the future life. They claim that their ancestors, called Kami, control all our affairs. That was the original creed of the Japanese, but Buddhism swallowed it up, and then instead of having the simple adoration rites of the Shintoists, they converted the temples into places of Buddha worship, which is really very wonderful and imposing,"
Arriving in Noyama, Mr. Crowell insisted that the boys should put up at his home at the consulate, and there they remained for two days.
The following morning Mr. Crowell said:
While you are here you might as well take in all the sights you possibly can. "It would be a nice ride over to Ichinoniga."
"What can we see there?" asked Winfield.
"That is the great place in this section for the silk worm, and the spinning of silk," he replied.
"Yes that would be just the thing. I heard so much about the silk worm, and have seen them," responded Stanwood enthusiastically.
"Then we might as well take the day for it. Almost every family beyond the town and along the river Kiso is engaged in the business of growing worms."
The machine speeded to the north along a high-way lined with cherry as well as mulberry trees, but the latter grew in greater abundance as they went on. Mr. Crowell explained that the trees flourished in a peculiar soil, and in those places the leaves were much finer and kept green longer than in other soils.
Suddenly Winfield stood up and shouted out: Did you see that?"
Mr. Crowell brought the car to a sudden stop, and their eyes turned to the object pointed out. "What is it?" inquired Stanwood, as he arose and appeared alarmed.
"See that pig!" he said.
Stanwood dropped back into the seat, with a look of disgust. "A pig," was all he said.
Well, it's the first one I've seen since we came here," answered Winfield.
Mr. Crowell laughed at the episode. "°I don't wonder at your surprise because there are very few here."
"I wonder why they don't raise them?" asked Winfield.
They are considered unclean," said Mr. Crowell.
Another amusing incident occurred when they stopped at a little tea house to take some tea. The structure was made wholly of bamboo, and the roof itself composed of bent poles on which was stretched some sort of light fabric.
Near the little door, at one side, were several windows, or openings. While they were sipping tea several immense crows alighted on the sills of the windows, and peering forward opened their long beaks and said "Ah !" in a tone of exclamation as distinctly as though uttered by a human throat.
They were startled for a moment. "They must be tame crows," said Stanwood.
"Oh, no! not at all; just the common crow; you may not have noticed them before, but you will find them flying about everywhere," said Mr. Crowell.
Well, what makes them so tame?"
"They are protected by law; they are the scavengers of the island, like the vultures, buzzards and birds of that class in some other countries."
They were certainly amusing and interesting entertainers; great black birds with glossy feathers, finely-formed beaks, and lustrous eyes; and the way in which they uttered the exclamations and leaned forward was sufficient to cause the party considerable merriment.
The road was lined with the bamboo cottages, all neatly constructed, and everywhere the mulberry trees grew in profusion. In this connection, it may be said, that the industry of raising the silk worm is a curious one. They are bred with the greatest care, and are divided into classes, some designed to produce one kind of silk, and others to consume the grossest part of the leaves.
Dismounting from the machine the little party passed among a great cluster of cottages, and Mr. Crowell approached a native, who recognized him at once. "I have brought some of my American friends here to see your pets," he said.
"That is a pleasure to me; you shall see some of my famous ones," was the native's answer, and he at once led the way to a row of low shed-like structures, built of bamboo and actually covered with silk netting.
Peering into these little beds of leaves within the structures, the boys saw hundreds of worms, some of them a green, sufficiently livid to match the leaves themselves, while others were of purple hue, and some of them striped.
"You see we cut up the leaves so they can easily feed from them; then we keep the different broods apart from each other, and also separate those which are very vigorous from the ones that are weak."
"What is that for?"
The weak ones are pushed aside by the strong ones; see this one; he tries to get the nicest bits; I must take him away," and saying this he grasped the large one gently, and carried it further along, where he was deposited among a lot more nearly his own size.
"But where is the silk'?" asked Stanwood. "Don't they do anything but eat?"
"Come along to this side," remarked the man. "You will notice all along that there are numerous twigs above the trays. They are put there for the purpose of making places for spinning the cocoons."
"Don't they eat while they are spinning?"
`Oh, no! As soon as they are ready to commence making the cocoon, they stop eating and mount these twigs.' The first thing the worm does is to weave a very coarse silk and with this it forms an outer coating or shell."
"Does it make the outside first?" inquired Stan-wood, in astonishment.
"Yes, because it buries itself within when-it is through weaving."
"Buries itself !" said Winfield.
"But where is the silk?"
"This tray will show the worm, which has just enclosed itself."
" But where does it get air?"
"It doesn't need air. As soon as it has made the outer covering it coats the inside of the shell with a sort of gum that prevents air from coming in. It then begins to spin the thread, or rather threads, for two strands issue from the two openings in the nose, and these are sealed together by a gum as they issue forth, so as to form a single thread."
"How long does it take each one to fill the shell ?"
"Five or six days, and it then rests for two or three weeks, at the end of which the perfect insect is formed; that is, the moth."
"How do you get the silk out?"
"If the insect is allowed to come out of its shell alive it destroys the silk, so that after the worm ceases to spin the outer shell is taken of, and the admission of air kills it. The cocoon is then immersed in hot water, or steam applied, as you will see at this stand, and you will notice that the end of the tiny thread is found, and united with the ends of three or four other cocoons, and thus combined they are reeled together to make a mass like this."
He picked up a beautiful silken mass of the threads, which was perfectly white, and the boys admired the work which had an added value to them because they had seen the operation in its various stages.
"How many yards are in each cocoon?" asked Stanwood.
"About three hundred."
My ! but how thin and light it is," he continued.
Yes; it will take a thousand of these threads, laid side by side, to make an inch of your measure. "
The investigations and the features of interest consumed three hours, and they did not once tire of the different objects brought to their attention.
They returned in the afternoon, glad of the opportunity to see this little side light in the interior of Japan.
But the boys regretted leaving. They had had a glorious time and it may well be believed that Mr,.Crowell appreciated their constant expressions of delight.
"We feel that we ought to pay you for the rides and for bringing us from Okasaka," said Winfield.
"I could not think of such a thing, and further-more, I am going to give you a letter to the Consul at Ozaka. He will help to smooth over a good marry hard spots," said Mr. Crowell.
We can never thank you enough for the kindness you have shown," said Stanwood.
But," continued Mr. Crowell, "I would advise you.. to take the train to that place. The country is not at all interesting between here and Ozaka, and you have made a pretty good trip on foot."
"That was the very thing I spoke about to Win-field tonight. It is just what we will do."
Do you know the fare?" asked Winfield.
"Eight yen apiece," was the reply. "Call on Mr. Walker the moment you get there, and present this letter. You might as well take advantage of every opportunity while you are here."
After luncheon the boys went to the station and were soon whisked away over the stretch of less than one hundred miles to Ozaka, a city with a population of over one million, and the chief industrial center of Japan.
They had little difficulty in finding the Consulate, and when the letter was presented, Mr. Walker said: "I am glad to meet you; Mr. Crowell told me about your trip, but I knew it from the New York papers which I received some time ago. I hope you have had a fine time?"
He then called to some one in the next room, and a young fellow, not much older than the boys, appeared, upon which Mr. Walker continued: Will these are the two boys who are touring the world." Then adding, to the boys, by way of explanation, "He is just on his way to Kioto, and you might find it interesting to accompany him in the machine."
"What kind of a place is that?" asked Stanwood.
"Why, it is by all odds the most interesting city in Japan," he replied.
"In what way? "
"For centuries it was the home of the Mikados, until 1869. It contains the Emperor's palace, which takes up fully twenty-five acres. It is entirely surrounded by a great wall, and has six gates."
"Is it a large city?"
"Over 450,000 people. Why, there are more than 800 Buddhist temples, and nearly a hundred Shinto shrines in the city."
"That will be interesting, and we are certainly glad to get the chance to see it," said Stanwood, secretly wondering why Japan made so much of its shrines and temples as show places.
The ride required only a little over an hour, the distance being about twenty-five miles. While on the way two things attracted the attention of the boys. At a little village where they stopped, on the way, several boys were huddled together, and some of them crying.
They made an investigation, and learned that the crying youngsters were engaged in fighting bumble-bee nests, and had been defeated. Win-field and Stanwood turned away in disgust.
Will laughed as lie commented: "Did you ever see the Japanese bumble bee?"
"Well, you won't laugh at the poor fellows after you once get a glimpse of them."
"Why? are they such terrible things?"
"Well, they are not exactly terrible, but they are over twice as large as the fellows we have at home."
This was confirmed ten minutes later, when, in passing a rice field, they saw a combat with a nest, at close range, and accompanied Will over to the scene of the conflict. The noise made by these monsters was really appalling, for they had a healthy hum and a wicked sound.
The only weapons which the fighters had were closely bound wisps of green rice straw. Will picked up one of the slaughtered insects, and they examined the specimen. It was over two inches in length,—as large as our humming bird, and the flutter of its wings was much more pronounced than that of the bird.
"No wonder the poor fellows were crying, to get a sting from such a thing as that," commented Winfield.
After passing the rice fields, they came to an entirely different kind of country, a section devoted to the raising of fruit and flowers for the great city beyond. Here the great butterflies, which were flying about in countless thousands, attracted attention.
"I thought they were little birds," said Stan-wood, "and to think that they are only butterflies."
"When I see them I can understand why the Jananese are so fond of them, and why they use them so much in their paintings," said Winfield.
Notwithstanding their great size, and apparent dexterity on the wing, they are easily caught, and some time was spent in getting specimens of the most curiously marked, and several which were such monsters as particularly to attract the boys.
Arriving in the city, Will lost no time in driving to the Mikado's palace grounds, and had no difficulty in entering through the main gate. As there was so much to see they did not take a trip through the various buildings, however.
From the Imperial Palace the party proceeded to the pagoda of Kyumidzu, the most picturesque structure in Japan. It is a Buddhist tower built so that it looks like five structures, one above the other, each superposed part being smaller than the one below. The wood work is exquisitely carved, and covered with a red lacquer.
Not even in Yokohama or Tokio did the boys see shops and stores with so many curious objects in the form of vases, fans, bronzes and embroideries. Two hours of wandering along the streets was sufficient, and after a hearty meal at an American restaurant, they boarded the ma-chine and were back in Ozaka at seven o'clock.
"If you find time to stay a day or two we might take a run down to Nara."
Where is it and what is interesting there?" asked Stanwood.
"It is not more than twenty miles from here, and more than a thousand years ago it was the seat of Japanese government."
"Yes we would like to go," answered Winfield.