Japan And Her People
The eyes of the world are on Japan. No other nation has ever made such progress in the same length of time, and at no time in her history has Japan enjoyed greater prestige than she enjoys just now; and, it may be added, at no time has she had to face greater problems than those which now confront her.
We were fortunate in the time of our arrival. Baron Komura, the returning peace commissioner, returned two dais later; the naval re-view celebrating the new Anglo-Japanese alliance took place in Yokohama harbor a week afterward, and this was followed next day by the reception of Admiral Togo at Tokyo. These were important events and they gave a visitor an extraordinary opportunity to see the people en masse. In this article I shall deal in a general way with Japan and her people, leaving for future articles her history, her government, her politics, her industries, her art, her education and her religions.
The term Japan is a collective title applied to four large islands, that is, Honshiu, Kyushu, Shikoku, Hokkaido and about six hundred smaller ones. Formosa and the islands immediately adjoining it are not generally included, although since the Chinese war they belong to Japan.
Japan extends in the shape of a crescent, curving toward the north-east, from fifty north latitude and one hundred and fifty-six east longitude to twenty-one degrees north latitude and one hundred and nine-teen east longitude. The area is a little less than one hundred and sixty thousand square miles, more than half of which is on the island of Honshiu. The coast line is broken by numerous bays furnishing commodious harbors, the most important of which are at Yokohama, Osaka, Kobe, Nagasaki, Kagoshima and Hakodate. The islands are so mountainous that only about one-twelfth the area is capable of cultivation. Although Formosa has a mountain, Mt. Niitaka (some-times called Mt. Morrison) which is two thousand feet higher, Fujiyama is the highest mountain in Japan proper. It reaches a height of 12,365 feet.
Fuji (Yama is the Japanese word for mountain) is called the Sacred Mountain and is an object of veneration among the Japanese. And well it may be, for it is doubtful if there is on earth a more symmetrical mountain approaching it in height. Rising in the shape of a perfect cone, with its summit crowned with snow throughout nearly the entire year and visible from sea level, it is one of the most sublime of all the works of nature. Mt. Ranier, as they say at Seattle, or Tacoma, as it is called in the city of that name, and Popocatapetl, near Mexico's capital, are the nearest approach to Fuji; so far as the writer's observation goes. Pictures of Fuji are to be found on everything; they are painted on silk, embroidered on screens, worked on velvet, carved in wood and wrought in bronze and stone. We saw it from Lake Hakone, a beautiful sheet of water some three thousand feet above the ocean. The foot hills which surround the lake seem to open at one point in order to give a more extended view of the sloping sides of this sleeping giant.
And speaking of Hakone, it is one of the beauty spots of Japan. On an island in this lake is the summer home of the crown prince. Hakone is reached by a six-mile ride from Miyanoshita, a picturesque little village some sixty miles west of Yokohama. There are here hot springs and all the delights of a mountain retreat. One of the best modern hotels in Japan, the Fujiya, is located here, and one of its earliest guests was General Grant when he made his famous tour around the world. The road from the hotel to Hakone leads by foaming mountain streams, through closely cultivated valleys and over a range from which the coast line can be seen.
Nikko, about a hundred miles north of Tokyo, and Nara about thirty miles from Kyoto; are also noted for their natural scenery, but as these places are even more renowned because of the temples located there they will be described later. The inland sea which separates the larger. islands of Japan, and is itself studded with smaller islands, adds interest to the travel from port to port. Many of these islands are inhabited, and the tiny fields which perch upon their sides give evidence of an ever present thrift. Some of the islands are barren peaks jutting a few hundred feet above the waves, while some are so small as to look like hay stacks in a submerged meadow.
All over Japan one is impressed with the patient industry of the people. If the Hollanders have reclaimed the ocean's bed, the people of Japan have encroached upon the mountains. They have broadened the valleys and terraced the hill sides. Often the diminutive fields are held in place by stone walls, while the different levels are furnished with an abundance of water from the short but numerous rivers.
The climate is very much diversified, ranging from almost tropical heat in Formosa to arctic cold in the northern islands ; thus Japan can produce almost every kind of food. Her population in 1903 was estimated at nearly forty-seven millions, an increase of about thirteen and a half millions since 1873. While Tokyo has a population of about one and a half millions, Osaka a population of nearly a million, Kyoto three hundred and fifty thousand, Yokohama three hundred thousand, and Kobe and Nagoya about the same, and there are several other large cities of less size, still a large majority of the population is rural and the farming communities have a decided preponderance in the federal congress, or diet. The population, however, is increasing more rapidly in the cities than in the country.
The stature of the Japanese is below that of the citizens of the United States and northern Europe. The average height of the men in the army is about five feet two inches, and the average weight between a hundred and twenty and a hundred and thirty pounds. It looks like burlesque opera to see, as one does occasionally, two or three little Japanese soldiers guarding a group of big burly Russian prisoners.
The opinion is quite general that the habit which the Japanese form from infancy of sitting on the floor with their feet under them, tends to shorten the lower limbs. In all the schools the children are now required to sit upon benches and whether from this cause or some other, the average height of the males, as shown by yearly medical examination, is gradually increasing. Although undersize, the people are sturdy and muscular and have the appearance of robust health. In color they display all shades of brown, from a very light to a very dark. While the oblique eye is common, it is by no means universal.
The conveyance which is most popular is the jinrikisha, a narrow seated, two wheeled top buggy with shafts, joined with a cross piece at the end. These are drawn by "rikisha men" of whom there are several hundred thousand in the empire. The 'rikisha was invented by a Methodist missionary some thirty years ago and at once sprang into popularity. When the passenger is much above average weight, or when the journey is over a hilly road, a pusher is employed and in extraordinary cases two pushers. It is astonishing what speed these men can make. One of the governors informed me that 'rikisha men sometimes cover seventy-five miles of level road in a day. They will take up a slow trot and travel for several miles without a break. We had occasion to go to a village fifteen miles from Kagoshima and crossed a low mountain range of perhaps two thousand feet. The trip each way occupied about four hours ; each 'rikisha had two pushers and the men had three hours rest at noon. They felt so fresh at the end of the trip that they came an hour later to take us to a dinner engagement. In the mountainous regions the chair and kago take the place of the 'rikisha. The chair rests on two bamboo poles and is carried by four men; the kago is suspended from one pole, like a swinging hammock, and is carried by two. Of the two, the chair is much the more comfortable for the tourist. The basha is a small one-horse omnibus which will hold four or six small people; it is used as a sort of stage between villages. A large part of the hauling of merchandise is done by men, horses being rarely seen. In fact, in some of the cities there are more oxen than horses, and many of them wear straw sandals to protect their hoofs from the hard pavement. The lighter burdens are carried in buckets or baskets, suspended from the ends of a pole and balanced upon the shoulder.
In the country the demand for land is so great that most of the roads are too narrow for any other vehicle than a hand cart. The highways connecting the cities and principal towns, however, are of good width, are substantially constructed and well drained, and have massive stone bridges spanning the streams.
The clothing of the men presents an interesting variety. In official circles the European and American dress prevails. The silk hat and Prince Albert coat are in evidence at all day functions, and the dress suit at evening parties. The western style of dress is also worn by many business men, professional men and soldiers, and by students after they reach the middle school, which corresponds to our high school. The change is taking place more rapidly among the young than among the adults and is more marked in the city than in the country. In one of the primary schools in Kyoto, I noticed that more than half of the children gave evidence of the transition in dress. The change is also more noticeable in the seaport cities than in the interior. At Kyoto, an in-land city, the audience wore the native dress and all were seated on mats on the floor, while the next night at Osaka, a seaport, all sat on chairs and nearly all wore the American dress. At the Osaka meeting some forty Japanese young ladies from the Congregational college sang "My Country 'Tis of Thee" in English.
The shopkeepers and clerks generally wear the native clothing, which consists of a divided skirt and a short kimono held in place by a sash. The laboring men wear loose knee breeches and a shirt in warm weather; in cold weather they wear tight fitting breeches that. reach to the ankles and a loose coat. In the country the summer clothing is even more scanty. I saw a number of men working in the field with nothing on but a cloth about the loins, and it was early in November, when I found a light overcoat comfortable.
A pipe in a wooden case and a tobacco pouch are often carried in the belt or sash, for smoking is almost universal among both men and women.
Considerable latitude is allowed in footwear. The leather shoe has kept pace with the coat and vest, but where the native dress is worn, the sandal is almost always used. Among the well-to-do the foot is encased in a short sock made of white cotton cloth, which is kept scrupulously clean. The, sock has a separate division for the great toe, the sandal being held upon the foot by a cord which runs between the first and second toes and, dividing, fastens on each side of the sandal. These sandals are of wood and rest upon two blocks an inch or more high, the front one sloping toward the toe. The sandal hangs loosely upon the foot and drags upon the pavement with each step. The noise made by a crowd at a railroad station rises above the roar of the train. In muddy weather a higher sandal is used which raises the feet three or four inches from the ground, and the wearers stalk about as if on stilts. The day laborers wear a cheaper sandal made of woven rope or straw. The footwear above described comes down from time immemorial, but there is coming into use among the 'rikisha men a modern kind of footwear which is a compromise between the new and the old. It is a dark cloth, low-topped gaiter with a rubber sole and no heel. These have the separate pocket for the great toe. The sandals are left at the door. At public meetings in Japanese halls the same custom is followed, the sandals being checked at the door as hats and wraps are in our country. On approaching a meeting place the speaker can form some estimate of the size of the audience by the size of the piles of sandals on the outside. After taking cold twice, I procured a pair of felt slippers and carried them with me, and the other members of the family did likewise.
The women still retain the primitive dress. About 1884 an at-tempt was made by the ladies of the court to adopt the European dress and quite a number of women in official circles purchased gowns in London, Paris and the United States, in spite of the protests of their sisters abroad. (Mrs. Cleveland joined in a written remonstrance which was sent from the United States.) But the spell was broken in a very few months and the women outside of the court circles returned to the simpler and more becoming native garb. It is not necessary to enter into details regarding the female toilet, as the magazines have made the world familiar with the wide sleeved, loose fitting kimono with its convenient pockets. The children wear bright colors, but the adults adopt more quiet shades.
The shape of the garment never changes, but the color does. This season grey has been the correct shade. Feminine pride shows itself in the obi, a broad sash or belt tied in a very stiff and incomprehensible bow at the back. The material used for the obi is often bright in color and of rich and expensive brocades. A wooden disc is often concealed within the bow of the obi to keep it in shape and also to brace the back, Two neck cloths are usually worn, folded inside the kimono to protect the bare throat. These harmonize with the obi in color and give a dainty finish to the costume. As the kimono is quite narrow in the skirt, the women take very short steps. This short step, -coupled with the dragging of the sandals, makes the women's gait quite unlike the free stride of the American woman. In the middle and higher schools the girls wear a pleated skirl over the kimono. These are uniform for each school and wine color is the shade now prevailing. The men and women of the same class wear practically the same kind of shoes.
Next to the obi, the hair receives the greatest attention and it is certainly arranged with elaborate care. The process is so complicated that a hair dresser is employed once or twice a week and beetle's oil is used in many instances to make the hair smooth and glossy. At night the Japanese women place a very hard, round cushion under the neck in order to keep the hair from becoming disarranged. The stores now have on sale air pillows, which are more comfortable than the wooden ones formerly used. The vexing question of millinery is settled by dispensing with hats entirely. Among the poorer classes the hat is seldom used by the men.
More interesting in appearance than either the men or women are the children—and I may add that there is no evidence of race suicide in Japan. They are to be seen everywhere, and a good natured lot they are. The babies are carried on the back of the mother or an older child, and it is not unusual to see the baby fast asleep while the bearer goes about her work. - Of the tens of thousands of babies we have seen, scarcely a half dozen have been crying. The younger children sometimes have the lower part of the head shaved, leaving a cap of long hair on the crown of the head. Occasionally a spot is shaved in the center of this cap. After seeing the children on the streets, one can better appreciate the Japanese dolls, which look so strange to American children.
Cleanliness is the passion of the Japanese. The daily' bath is a matter of routine, and among the middle classes there are probably more who go above this average than below. It is said that in th city of Tokyo there are over eleven hundred public baths, and it ; s estimated that five hundred thousand baths are taken daily at these places. The usual charge is one and a quarter cents (in our money) for adults and one cent for children. One enthusiastic admirer of Japan declares that a Japanese boy, coming unexpectedly into the possession of a few cents, will be more apt to spend it on a bath than on something to eat or drink. The private houses have baths wherever the owners can afford them. The bath tub is made like a barrel-sometimes of stone, but more often of wood—and is sunk below the level of the floor. The favorite temperature is one hundred and ten degrees, and in the winter time the bath tub often takes the place of a stove. In fact, at the hot springs people have been known to remain in the bath for days at a time. I do not vouch for the statement, but Mr. Basil H. Chamberlain in his book entitled "Things Japanese," says that when he was at one of these hot springs "the caretaker of the establishment, a hale old man of eighty, used to stay in the bath during the entire winter." Until recently the men and women bathed promiscuously in the public baths; occasion-ally, but not always, a string separated the bathers. Now different apartments must be provided.
The Japanese are a very polite people. They have often been likened to the French in this respect-the French done in bronze, so to speak. They bow very low, and in exchanging salutations and farewells sometimes bow several times. When the parties are seated on the floor, they rise to the knees and bow the head to the floor. Servants, when they bring food to those who are seated on the floor, drop upon their knees and, bowing, present the tray.
In speaking of the people I desire to emphasize one conclusion that has been drawn from my observations here, viz., that I have never seen a more quiet, orderly or self-restrained people. I have visited all of the larger cities and several of the smaller ones, in all parts of the islands; have mingled in the crowds that assembled at Tokyo and at Yokohama at the time of the reception to Togo and during the naval review; have ridden through the streets in day time and at night; and have walked when the entire street was a mass of humanity. I have not seen one drunken native or witnessed a fight or altercation of any kind. This is the more remarkable when it is remembered that these have been gala days when the entire population turned out to display its patriotism and to enjoy a vacation.
The Japanese house deserves a somewhat extended description. It is built of wood, is one story in height, unpainted and has a thatched or a tile roof. The thatched roof is cheaper, but far less durable. Some of the temples and palaces have a roof constructed like a thatched roof in which the bark of the arbor vitae is used in place of grass or straw. These roofs are often a foot thick and are quite imposing. In cities most buildings are roofed with tile of a pattern which has been used for hundreds of years. Shingles are sometimes used on newer structures, but they are not nearly so large as our shingles, and instead of being fastened with nails, are held in place by wire. On the business streets the houses are generally two stories, the merchant living above the store. The public buildings are now being constructed of brick and stone and modeled after the buildings of America and Europe. But returning to the native architecture—the house is really little more than a frame, for the dividing walls are sliding screens, and, except in cold weather, the outside walls are taken out during the day. The rooms open into each other, the hallway extending around the outside instead of going through the center. Frail sliding partitions covered with .paper separate the rooms from the hall, glass being almost unknown. The floor is covered with a heavy matting two inches thick, and as these mats are of uniform size, six feet by three, the rooms are made to fit the mats, twelve feet square being the common size. As the walls of the room are not stationary, there is no place for the hanging of pictures, although the sliding walls are often richly decorated. Such pictures as the house contains are painted on silk or paper and are rolled up when not on exhibition. At one end of the room used for company, there is generally a raised platform upon which a pot of flowers or other ornament is placed, and above this there are one or two shelves, the upper one being inclosed in sliding doors. There are no bed-steads, the beds being made upon the floor and rolled up during the day. There are no tables or chairs. There is usually a diminutive desk about a foot high upon which writing material is placed. The writing is done with a brush and the writing case or box containing the brush, ink, etc., has furnished the lacquer industry with one of the most popular articles for ornamentation. The people sit upon cushions upon the floor and their meals are served upon trays.
Japanese food is so different from American food that it takes the visitor some time to acquire a fondness for it, more time than the tourist usually has at his disposal. With the masses rice is the staple article of diet, and it is the most palatable native dish that the foreigner finds here. The white rice raised in Japan is superior in quality to some of the rice raised in China, and the farmers are often compelled to sell good rice and buy the poorer quality. Millet, which is even cheaper, is used as a substitute for rice.
As might be expected in a seagirt land, fish, lobster, crab, shrimp, etc., take the place of meat, the fish being often served raw. As a matter of fact, it is sometimes brought to the table alive and carved in the presence of the guests. Sweet potatoes, pickled radishes, mush-rooms, sea weed, barley and fruit give variety to the diet. The radishes are white and enormous in size. I saw some which were two feet long and two and a half inches in diameter. Another variety is conical in form and six or eight inches in diameter. I heard of a kind of turnip which grows so large that two of them make a load for the small Japanese horses. The chicken is found quite generally throughout the country, but is small like the fighting breeds or the Leghorns. Ducks, also, are plentiful. Milk is seldom used except in ease of sickness, and butter is almost unknown among the masses.
But the subject of food led me away from the house. No description would be complete which did not mention the little gate through which the tiny door yard is entered; the low doorway upon which the foreigner constantly bumps his head, and the little garden at the rear of the house with its fish pond, its miniature mountains, its climbing vines and fragrant flowers. The dwarf trees are cultivated here, and they are a delight to the eye; gnarled and knotted pines two feet high and thirty or forty years old are not uncommon. Little maple trees are seen here fifty years old and looking all of-their age, but only twelve inches in height. We saw a collection of these dwarf trees, several hundred in number, and one could almost imagine himself transported to the home of the brownies. Some of these trees bear fruit ludicrously large for the size of the tree. The houses are heated by charcoal fires in open urns or braziers, but an American would not be satisfied with the amount of heat supplied. These braziers are moved about the room as convenience requires and supply heat for the inevitable tea.
But I have reached the limit of this article and must defer until the next a description of the Japanese customs as we found them in the homes which we were privileged to visit.
( Originally Published 1907 )
The Old World And Its Way:
Crossing The Pacific-hawaii
Japan And Her People
Japanese Customs And Hospitality
Japan—her History And Progress
Japanese Industries, Art And Commerce
Japanese Educational System And Religions
Japanese Education And Religion
Korea - The Hermit Nation
China As She Was
China As She Was - Part Ii
Read More Articles About: The Old World And Its Way