Amazing articles on just about every subject...


Impressions Of The Orient

( Originally Published 1924 )



Japan

THE 11th of October, 1922, I embarked for Japan and on the 25th arrived at Yokohama. It was a bright, clear day and the mountains stood out strongly in the early morning sunshine. The sea was dotted with the sails of hundreds of Japanese fishing boats. We had hardly come to anchor when the ship was surrounded by sampans manned by scantily-dressed rowers who handled their clumsy oars with much skill. A group of picturesque timber men arrived, barelegged, their heads bound around with a white band and their backs covered with a short cotton coat embroidered with cabalistic symbols. In the old days, before Japan became modernized, the followers of a daimio wore his crest on their tunics. The Revolution of 1868 swept all this away and now the proud crest of the clan is superseded by the trade-mark of the commercial company which hires the workman, a coat which is shed with each change of employer, for trade unionism has reached Japan. These thick-set, muscular men quickly bound together in rafts the great square timbers as they were dropped into the water by the ship's cranes, and as they did so sang a chanty which was most melodious.

Yokohama was formerly one of the treaty ports and the European has made his mark on the seafront, so much so that a feeling of disappointment is felt, for one might be landing at a seaport in Europe. Landing at the English Hataba, one is closely scrutinized by the customs and police on duty. They do not like cameras and Russians. Taking a rickshaw one is pulled by the little brown man with a blue coat the back of which is embellished with idiographs. He trots along at an even pace, but I felt humiliated to be drawn by a man, like an animal, in the shafts. The older rickshaw men have enormously developed calves to their legs, acquired by years of trotting. In passing I should say the average earnings of these human beasts of burden are one yen, or fifty cents, a day, and it is considered a good wage. Their lives are short, for in consequence of getting overheated and standing about in the cold and rain they get rheumatism, bronchitis and asthma. They can rarely continue this occupation more than ten years.

Soon the solid stone buildings are passed and one finds oneself in the real Japan. The narrow streets are lined with quaint little shops, across the front of which runs a platform on which, in fine weather, are squatted brown men in kimonos. Farther back may be seen women and girls and perhaps a clerk or two. They do not appear to have any goods for sale, but on entering, one is received with many bows and smiles. From cupboards are brought out the most beautiful silks and embroideries imaginable. One soon finds out that notwithstanding the extraordinaily low prices they are subject to further discount. One can buy the most beautiful silk garments for one third what one pays at home for trash. The purchases made, one is bowed out with more smiles, rubbing of knees together and sucking in of the heath. Shopping is not difficult, for in all the larger shops some one speaks English.

There is a drug shop in Yokohama which is run by an Englishman, in whieh I saw with something like surprise, all kinds of wines, spirits and liquors. A closer examination of the labels, which purported to be those of So and So's Scotch whiskey, bottles and labels being what we were accustomed to see in pre-prohibition days, revealed in small letters the words "made in Japan." I can only say that the contents tasted like, smelt like, and had the same effect as the original article. The Japanese is a sober man. Wilken he does "get lit up" it is on sake, a sickly kind of drink, drunk warm and tasting like bad sherry. But one can get genuine French wines at very moderate rates, for the Japanese have a treaty with France on " the-mostfavored-nation " terms.

Next to the quaint little doll's houses in which the people live, one's attention is attracted by the people, and especially by their dress. The women, with rare exceptions, wear native costumes the kimona, the "obi," or broad sash with a large bow behind, white stockings with a separate compartment for the great toe, and sandals or wooden clogs. When large numbers of women are moving about the streets these clogs make a curious sound on the cobblestone pavements. The position in life of the wearer of the kimona and obi can readily be told by the initiated. The gayest are worn by the women lowest in the social scale. The hair, which is lustrous black, is done up in curious bows and knots, through which are stuck pins with large heads, often adorned with jewels. One particularly notices the poor little mothers--for the Japanese women are very small--carrying a thumping baby straddled across her back, held in place with some sort of support. They look so fired one is sorry for them. But the picturesque and becoming native dress of women will not be much seen in a few years, for I attended a school demonstration of hundreds of girls, every one of whom was dressed in European clothing. It was not a pretty sight, for the parents did not seem to have had the least idea of color, harmonized effect or becomingness. Moreover, they all wore stockings and shoes, their hair in pigtails adorned with gaudy bows. The boys wore knickerbockers and shirts, but. they did not look so ugly. They had, moreover, their hair cropped in European style. The business men of the upper class always dress in the ordinary European business suits during the day, but on reaching home quickly don the more comfortable Japanese dress. Many affect a combination of European and Japanese style, wearing shoes with elastic sides, so that they can be easily taken off on entering a shop or temple, bare legs, a fedora hat and a kimona. The effect is ludicrous to our eyes. They generally wear a gold wrist watch and if possible have one or more teeth filled with gold, which they take occasion to show. It is the high style.

I saw a large gathering of Japanese women in Tokyo. It was a pretty sight and was as gay as a flower garden in June. They were mostly geishas. The geisha is not what we think she is. She is a young girl who from an early age is trained to sing to the accompaniment of the samisen, to dance and make agreeable conversation. Very young girls are called maikos. They are conspicuous at dinners and entertainments, but it is unfair to put her in the class with the het aira, the denizen of the nightless city. In fact she is rather above than below the ballet girl, being much more refined and better educated. The so-called dances are posturings in which the arms and bodies sway about but the feet move but little. There has recently been a rebellion among the geishas, it having been decided by the courts that the parents have not the right to sell girls into a servitude when under age. Hence a different arrangement will have to be made in future. The parents receive considerable sum of money for these girls and in return they are educated in the manner already described. The term of service is usually seven years, when many of them marry. To Western ideas the girls are not pretty, their faces being thickly covered with white powder, the eyebrows and eyelashes painted, while their brown skins show at the neck, looking dirty by contrast with their ghastly white faces. They are beautifully clothed and are graceful in their movements. At the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, some of the Japanese girls have been taught to dance one steps, turkey trots and other Western dances. They dance in their stocking feet and are most graceful, wearing full Japanese costume.

The Yoshiwara is an institution peculiar to Japan. In all English-speaking countries it is customary to ignore the social evil, yet everyone knows it exists in spite of every effort to put it down. Polygamy of a kind is recognized by the Japanese State, but the girls are confined to a certain section of the town, which is really a city in itself. It is said that in Tokyo there are 40,000 inmates. There is no such a thing as male conjugal fidelity in that country. Every city and most towns and villages have their Yoshiwaras. Strange to relate, it does not disgrace a girl to follow this calling. She enters under contract, her parents receiving the price, she being fed, housed, dressed and treated in hospital. They receive no pay beyond tips. When the time of her contract is up she can leave and often marries, no stigma being attached to her. The women are periodically inspected by a government doctor.

It is easy to travel in Japan; trains, both electric and steam, are frequent, comfortable and fast. The officials are polite and many of them speak English. The names of all stations are painted up in English as well as in Japanese, while the notices of departures and arrival are printed in both languages.

The Japanese language is very difficult, for there are three forms to be learnt, the colloquial, the polite and the written. The written comprises from 4,000 to 5,000 ideographs, representing ideas and facts rather than words; they are in fact picture words, and are of Chinese origin. They have forestalled the dramatists, for the ideograph for trouble consists of two women and one man.

In all the large cities modern European hotels have been built and European food is served and is excellently cooked. The prices charged are very reasonable, being cheaper than those charged in hotels of the same class on this continent. Few Europeans can endure the Japanese menu, being composed of a great number of little dishes of mysterious composition. Least of all do they relish the raw fish with tobasco or some such hot sauce. The fish are killed immediately before being eaten and still quiver on the plate. It has been discovered that the fatal disease called beriberi is caused by eating raw fish as well as by the consumption of polished rice, hence these two articles of food have been prohibited in the Imperial Japanese Navy; so this dread disease has disappeared from war-ships. One of the pests of the Far East is cholera. This is not the real Asiatic cholera, which swept Europe in the thirties and forties, but a local disease caused by eating uncooked vegetables which are grown and fertilized under unsanitary conditions. When I was in Yokohama seven natives died in two days from eating oysters which had been nourished on sewage. One should be careful of drinking water in the Far East. There is no telling how and when it was contaminated. it is curious how peoples become immune to dirt diseases. We all have experience of people who are born in dirt, live in dirt and die in dirt at reasonably advanced ages. I have seen struggles with patients coming into hospitals to make them bathe, who admittedly had not bathed for years. The only safe plan in the East is to drink bottled water of a recognized brand. A most delightful aerated water is Tansan, bottled by the Clifford Wilkinson Company in Japan. It is not only pure but contains a considerable percentage of radium emanation similar to the waters of Marienbad. They sell about sixty-five million bottles a year throughout the East and as far south as the Straits Settlements.

British influence is supreme in Japan. The treaty of alliance which Great Britain made with that country some years ago was immensely gratifying to Japanese self-esteem and proved of great benefit to the Allies in the Great War. In all schools English is now taught for two days a week, so that while travelling one can always find some one who can speak the language intelligibly. I attended a memorial service in a small town and was discussing it with a friend who was with me. I did not understand what it all meant, but it was very beautiful. The grave was adorned with heaps of flowers, incense was burned and the family joined very devoutly in the prayers led by the priest, who was a fine looking man, clothed in purple silk. To my surprise one of the ladies came up to us, and speaking excellent English, told us that they were honoring the memory of her father, who had been dead for several years.

A large portion of the industries of the country is controlled by British and American capital, much of the new construction in concrete and steel being done by American firms.

The scenery of Japan is beautiful, for it is impossible to get out of sight of mountains. They differ materially in appearance from those of the Pacific coast of North America. I have counted twelve cone-shaped mountains in a very small area. The rocks give evidence of volcanic origin, looking in many instances like molten masses of a reddish-brown hue and obviously many are extinct volcanoes. The number of active volcanoes is variously estimated at from 127 to 300, hut the truth seems to be that apparently extinct volcanoes suddenly take on activity, hence it is difficult to say which are extinct and which are only slumbering. A gentleman, a resident of Yokohama for thirty year's, told me that he never could get used to earthquakes and tremblers and said (prophetically, alas) that some day Yokohama would be destroyed, and that feeling was very general among foreign residents. This gentleman had a miraculous escape from the earthquake, but lost his valuable collection of Japanese curios. These tremblers are of very frequent occurrence; as many as 300 a year occur in Tokyo. The great mountain Fuji-Vama has been quiescent since 1711. The Japanese worship it. It is a beautiful spectacle, glittering in the rosy rays of the rising sun, and has been described by more competent writers than I am, but this I will say that, splendid as it is, it is not nearly so vast and impressive as Mount Ranier in the State of Washington.

I had an experience of an earthquake when in Japan. The sensations produced were most unpleasant. One felt rather faint, a little dizzy and really alarmed. We went to a place called Kotzunotzu to take on coal. As we came to anchor we felt a shock and tremor in the ship. The captain was quite disturbed, for the chart showed no rocks. Immediately several waves of a large size came rolling in which had no connection with the tide, which was ebbing. Ht was perplexing. The ship's motor-boat was lowered and we went ashore. We found all the population in the streets and the fields. Beds and bedding lay about everywhere. We learned that there had been shocks every ten minutes or so, for three days, that 2,000 houses had collapsed, 1,500 people had been injured and twenty-three killed in the district. The people did not seem much alarmed; rather they were stoical. Eventually the coal barges came off and we coaled entirely by hand. Rows of passers, men and women, stationed themselves on the sides of the ship and on deck and passed baskets, each holding about a bushel, from one to the other. We took on board 1,500 tons of coal in this nay, in one day, which is about as fast as can be done by coal shoots and machinery.

The ordinary Japanese house is a flimsy affair built of bamboo, the roofs being generally of tiles. They have been called " insurance policies against earthquakes, " but the results do not seem to justify the name. They have two weaknesses, the heavy roof which falls in and crushes the inhabitant and the liability to catch fire. Being unpainted they have a weather-beaten, unattractive appearance, and look very cheap and shabby. Most of them are about the size of a good-sized woodshed, and are one storied. Brick and stone houses are the exception.

Japan has an enormous population; indeed, it is one of the most densely populated countries in the world, for 65,000,000 people live on the three hundred islands which constitute the Empire of Nippon. The yearly birth-rate is a million, hence it is a serious problem to provide food and work for so many people. Japan has taken possession of Korea and Formosa and her people have spread over Manchuria, but more territory is a necessity for her, and as they are an energetic and aggressive people they will eventually occupy more land on the continent of Asia, and who can blame them? It is fortunate that the cost of living is low, although in Japan, as everywhere else in the world, it has risen. The ordinary income of a coolie is thirty cents a day and he and his wife and children exist on it. Every inch of ground is intensively cultivated, wherever possible rice being raised, but necessity is obliging them to eat more wheaten bread. Meat is rarely used, for cattle and sheep are few and the price is prohibitive for the poor. Fish is largely eaten and generally in the dried state, which has a most unappetizing appearance. Various schemes of emigration have been suggested and, as is well known, there are large numbers of Japanese in British Columbia and the Pacific States, but in Hawaii they constitute a majority of the inhabitants. The latest proposal is to colonize the west coast of South America. But they are not very welcome anywhere because they are so thrifty and frugal that they soon buy out the landed proprietors and possess the soil, and as they work more cheaply at the trades they compete with union labor successfully. Furthermore, they do not mix with the Caucasian race, but remain a people apart. The half-castes I have seen do not impress one favorably, for they seem to lack stamina and have the reputation of being lazy and shiftless.

The development of Japan since 1870 is marvellous. Prior to that date they were one of the most backward of races, although they had for many centuries a remarkable civilization of their own. Western science, education and industry have made wonderful progress. Japanese patience and industry lends itself naturally to research work and some remarkable discoveries have been made by Japanese doctors. They have also taken up European art, and some excellent paintings have been prodcued by their artists; but in the native art of sculpture in ivory and modelling of bronzes, Europe has much to learn from them. Every one has seen the exquisite Japanese embroideries on silk, the lacquer cabinets, boxes and trays, wonderful chinaware and the wood carvings. They, of their kind, are unequalled in the world.

Nor has the political education of the people been neglected, although there are no regular political parties in Japan as we understand such parties. They are rather the followers of some one man; hence Parliament is composed of groups. By the coalition of groups, a government gets its support and strength. The premier is selected and appointed by the Emperor or Regent and he chooses his cabinet so that the supporting groups are recognized.

In industrial development, the most noticeable feature is the liberal use of electricity. Electric lighting is to be seen everywhere; factories are run by electricity and so arc trains and trams. Ht is curious to see a fifteenth century temple lighted by modern electric light.

The temples and shrines, whieh are said to number 300,000, are not impressive, and being built of wood and unpainted they look dingy and unkempt. The interiors are painted in gorgeous colors, even the wonderful wood carvings, which are not improved by it, but look tawdry, the more so when the paint has fallen off and has not been renewed. The Buddhist temples are the finest, but as Buddhism is disestablished the support these temples receive is greatly reduced. Shinto (the way of the gods) is the State religion since the Revolution of 1868, because Buddhism was the religion of the Shoguns, who were deposed. Religious festivals are cheerful rites, being composed of some praying, and much eating, playing and jollification. It is wonderful what the absence of a hell can do to make a people cheerful ! No souls die, they only pass over into another and better spirit world and the spirits of the loved parents and children are ever present and direct most of the common affairs of life. Each morning they are worshipped in the little home, for each house has its shrine. A few grains of rice, and a little sake are placed before the shrine for the refreshment of the departed should they require it. At any rate they know they are not forgotten, as most of our ancestors are. Once a year, or oftener, a religious service is held at the grave or at the ancestral stone or tablet. I am told that Japan will never be generally Christianized because there are too many Christian denominations which keep missionaries in the field. Moreover, they have an unhappy memory of the Jesuits in the sixteenth century, who were exterminated, they and thousands of their converts, by the Shogun of the time, for interference in the political affairs of the country.

An authority on Japan, Lafcadio Hearn, says: "Never will the East turn Christian while dogmatism requires the convert to deny the obligation of his family, the community and his government, and further insists that he prove his zeal for an alien creed by destroying the tablets of his ancestors and outraging the memory of those who gave him life." There you have it. The whole basis of Japanese society rests on ancestor worship. From it comes his duty to his family, to the community and to the government, the name of the latter being in the Japanese language religion.

I was much impressed with what I saw of the Japanese army. It was a matter of surprise to me to see such comparatively big men. It is said that their short stature was due to the national habit of sitting cross-legged, hence interfering with the blood supply of the lower limbs, which did not grow as did the rest of the body. The government forbade this habit. School children now sit on seats like Western people, with the result that their legs have grown. The food ration has also been changed. The peace strength of the army is 212,731 and the war strength 1,789,922. Every able-bodied male must serve five years with the colors and ten years in the reserve. The pay of a Japanese soldier is infinitesimal, even the major commanding a battalion only receiving $50.00, gold, a month. It is considered a great honor to hold a commission and every effort is made to obtain one and to live on the small pay. The Russo-Japanese War proved their courage, endurance, tenacity and high morale. That it is the equal of an Anglo-Saxon army, I do not believe. Of the navy I know very little, as I only saw some fine modern destroyers at sea and in the harbors.

One of the most curious social features of Japan is the official suicides. The matter of suicide is not a matter of emotion, but is governed by fixed rules. There are times and occasions when it is the duty of a Japanese man or woman to commit sell-destruction. It is a matter of family or personal honor, or the duty of joining a friend or a master in the spirit world as, for instance, in the suicide of General Nogi, who went to join the spirit of his master, the late Emperor. The act is called harakiri in a man, and jigai in a woman, and is performed in a different manner. Both array themselves in white, light tapers, burn incense, say certain prayers and, in the case of a man, rip the abdomen open. A woman cuts the arteries of the neck by a downward stroke of a special sharp knife. The great example was the death of the Forty-nine Ronins who suicided after avenging the death of the lord and master, whose graves are visited by thousands annually and whose names and deeds are held in the highest veneration.

What of the future of Japan? My opinion is that in course of time Japan will become I he dominant power in the Far East. She is nearly that now. In due course, the whirligig of circumstances, both military and political, will give her possession of Hawaii, the Philippines and large sections of China.

No man knows the Japanese mind; it is inscrutable, but they arc persistent, and strong mentally and physically. They are increasing rapidly in numbers and the economic pressure is very great. They are bound to expand, are diplomatic and far-sighted. England would be wise to keep on warm terms of friendship with them.

I have not attempted in this sketch of Japan to describe temples or public monuments, but I cannot resist saying a word about the great Daibutsu of Kamikura. This wonderful image of Buddha is forty-nine feet high and fourteen feet wide at the base. It is cast in bronze. The eyes are five feet wide and made of solid gold. The knobs, or bunches of hair, each weigh thirty pounds and are of solid silver. The interior of the statue is used as a shrine and is entered by a stairway and a door in the back. But it is not the size or splendor of the Buddha which impresses one, but the singular expression of peace on its countenance. There is something hypnotic about it. The longer one looks at it the more one seems to come under its influence.

The approach to the park in which it stands is by an avenue of cherry trees. In front lie ponds of pink and white lotus. Near by is the temple Hachiman, the God of War, a beautiful example of Japanese architecture, which is reached after passing through several " torii" or memorial arches of stone.

Since the foregoing sketch of Japan and the Japanese was written (it was mostly composed when I was at sea), a terrible disaster has happened. The most colossal earthquake and fire in modern times has nearly overwhelmed them. The beautiful and interesting cities of Yokohama and Tokyo have been almost destroyed, and hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost. The sympathy of the world goes out to that lovely and afflicted country. Money, goods and food are pouring in from all parts of the world to relieve the distress, but nothing can restore the dear ones who are lost to sight, but, according to the Shinto religion, not dead, just passed over and still in silent communication with the living.

Japan will recover, but it will not be the same Japan. 'The burned cities will be thoroughly Europeanized. The picturesqueness will be gone for ever, but the spirit of the people is not broken; Japan will rise from her ashes a greater Japan.

She has been tried by fire and has not been found wanting.

Home | More Articles | Email: info@oldandsold.com