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We leave Nagasaki — Van Dieman's Strait — Gale of wind — Vries's Island — View of Fusi-yama — Bay of Yedo — Yokuhama — Its value as a port for trade — Foreign houses — Native town — Shops — Bronzes, ivory carvings, and curiosities — Lacquer ware — Porcelain — Rock-crystal balls — Toys — Books and maps — Menagerie — The Gan-ke-ro — Surrounding country — Its geological formation.
LEAVING Nagasaki and its beautiful scenery at daylight on the 19th of October, we proceeded on our voyage to the port of Kanagawa, near Yedo, the capital of Japan, and distant from Nagasaki about 700 miles. When outside the harbour of Nagasaki the mariner has two courses open to him: he may either go northward, and pass through the inland sea which divides the islands of Nipon and Kiu-siu, or he may take a southerly course and go through Van Dieman's Strait, and thus out into the waters of the Pacific Ocean. Sailing vessels generally choose the latter, as being the safer and more expeditious way of reaching their destination, and this was the Marmora's ' course in the present instance. Luckily we had a fair wind all the way from Nagasaki until we got through the strait. Near the entrance to the strait there are some small islands known to mariners as the "Retribution Rocks." They are only a few feet above the water, and are rather dangerous neighbours in a dark night, or during those heavy gales for which this coast is so unfavourably known. On our left we observed the mainland of Kiu-siu, stretching far away to the eastward, and ending in a Cape named "Cape Chichakoff." A high conical-shaped mountain named "Horner Peak," 2345 feet in height, and not unlike Fusi-yama in miniature, was also passed on our left. It forms an excellent landmark to the navigator of these seas. Between "Horner Peak" and the Cape there is a deep bay jutting inland for 30 or 40 miles, and having at its head an important city named Kagosima, where the Prince of Satsuma has his head-quarters. On the south side of the strait we observed several large islands, one of which is named Iwo-sima, or Sulphur Island. This is an active volcano, and smoke and flames are continually rising, not from its summit in the usual way, but from many parts of its sides. The whole mountain seems on fire, and has a very curious appearance when seen during the night.
The coast of Japan is remarkable for the suddenness with which gales of wind come on, and we were now destined to have our turn. It was a beautiful evening when we were nearly abreast of Cape Chichakoff; we had a light fair wind, and our little bark was gliding along at the rate of six or seven miles an hour. We were congratulating ourselves on our great good luck, and just coming to the conclusion that all we had heard and read of the gales on this coast were so many "travellers' stories;" but we were soon compelled to come to a different conclusion. Towards dark the sky began to wear a lowering appearance in the north-east, and in less than half an hour we were in the midst of a gale of wind. Sail after sail was taken in, and at last it was deemed advisable to lie to until some change in the weather should take place. The sea also rose with great rapidity, and, except in a typhoon in China, I never recollect such a gale and such a sea. Our little bark behaved admirably, rising and falling with the sea, and shipping comparatively little water.
For two days it was necessary for us to remain in this uncomfortable position; and when the gale moderated, and we were able to get a little sail upon the vessel, the winds were foul, and carried us considerably to the southward of our course. But it cannot always blow a gale, even in Japan; so, whether the winds were tired of persecuting us, or whether it was owing to the influence of sundry old shoes which were thrown overboard, I cannot say, but the gale ceased, and a fair wind sprang up from the westward. On the evening of the 28th we were abreast of Cape Idsu — that Cape of Storms where it is said to blow always. Our experience, however, was rather different; for we seemed to run into a dead calm, with a heavy tumbling sea.
At daybreak on the 29th we were opposite a group of islands situated not very far from the entrance to the Bay of Yedo. One of them — Vries's Island — rises to the height of 2530 feet above the sea, and has an active volcano on its summit. The smoke, which continuously rises from this mountain, forms an excellent landmark for mariners approaching this part of the coast. As we sailed past we observed that on the sides of the mountain, and particularly down near the shore, there were numerous villages and small towns. There were apparently some fertile valleys and hill-sides at a low elevation, but near the summit all appeared barren, while huge volumes of smoke were seen following each other at short intervals.
On our left, on that same morning, was spread out to our admiring gaze the fair land of Nipon; and very beautiful it was to look upon. The land was hilly and mountainous as in China; but there appeared, some fifty or sixty miles inland, Mount Fusi, or Fusi-yama, the "Matchless," or Holy Mountain of the Japanese. Its northern slopes were covered with snow, but on its southern sides green streaks of verdure were visible. This mountain is the highest in Japan. It was formerly supposed to be only 10,000 or 12,000 feet above the level of the sea, but later observations made by Mr. Alcock's party in 1860 give it a height of 14,177 feet.
View Of Fusi-yama — From a Japanese sketch
In the evening we passed Cape Sagami at the entrance of the Bay of Yedo, and at daybreak next morning we were well up the bay, and only a short distance from the Yokuhama anchorage. On our right, in the direction of Yedo, we observed a cloud of boats under sail, composed chiefly of fishing-boats which supply the markets of the capital and the surrounding towns with fish. During our voyage from Nagasaki I had observed very few native vessels or fishing-boats, such as may be seen crowding the waters of the Chinese coast. In so far as sea-going vessels are concerned, I was quite prepared to see but few, as the Japanese are not a maritime nation, and do not send ships to foreign countries; but I fully expected to see fleets of fishing-boats along the shore, and their absence leads me to doubt whether the Japanese islands are as populous as they are generally supposed to be.
We anchored abreast of the town of Yokuhama at eight o'clock on the morning of the 30th of October. This is one of the ports opened by treaty to foreigners, and it is the one nearest to the capital. It was here that in March, 1854, Commodore Perry, of the United States Navy, concluded his treaty with the Japanese. At one of the interviews presents were delivered from the American Government. These consisted of American cloths, agricultural implements, firearms, and a beautiful locomotive, tender, and passenger car, one-fourth of the ordinary size. The latter was put in motion on a circular track, and went at the rate of twenty miles an hour. The Japanese, we are told, were more interested in this than in anything else; but, Chinese-like, concealed all expressions of wonder or astonishment.
The town of Kanagawa, on the opposite or northern side of the bay, is the place named as the port in the treaty, but it was found unsuitable owing to the shallowness of the water all along that part of the shore. For a long time the ministers and consuls of the Treaty powers endeavoured to induce their respective merchants to abstain from renting land or building on the Yokuhama side of the bay. Curiously enough, however, the Japanese Government took a different view of the matter, and encouraged the merchants to come to Yokuhama by building for them dwelling-houses, and commodious piers and landing-places.
Both places had their advantages and disadvantages. The argument of the consuls in favour of adhering to Kanagawa was that it was on the great highway of Japan; and that, as Japanese from all parts of the empire were daily passing through it, our merchandise would, through them, be carried to all parts of the country, and would in this manner be quickly known and appreciated. It was also hinted that the Government intended to hem foreigners in at Yokuhama by means of a broad and deep canal; that this in fact was to be another Desima; and that we were to be made prisoners and treated in all respects as the Dutch were in the olden time at Nagasaki.
The advantage of Kanagawa being on the great highway of Japan was fully admitted by the merchants, but they believed that if they located themselves there the Government would lead the main road round by some other way, and would take measures to have them and their Japanese customers as much under control as at Yokuhama. As to the latter place being made a second Desima, they argued that the time had gone by when such things were possible. Besides, if Kanagawa was chosen, the ships would have to lie a long way from the shore, where they would oftentimes be unapproachable owing to the state of the weather, which is very uncertain on this coast. Altogether Yokuhama was the most suitable place for the transaction of their business, and it was business which had brought them to Japan.
While this discussion was going on, the Japanese Government, for reasons of its own, was affording every facility to those who wished to settle at Yokuhama; and notwithstanding the opposition of the ministers and consuls of the Treaty powers, the merchants carried their point: Unhappily all this was the cause of much wrangling and ill feeling, which it will take some time to remove.
When the American squadron first visited Yokuhama in 1854, it was but a small fishing village, containing probably not more than 1000 inhabitants. Now the population amounts to 18,000 or 20,000, and a large town covers a space which was formerly occupied by rice-fields and vegetable gardens. The town is built on the flat land which extends along the shores of the bay, and is backed by a kind of semicircle of low richly-wooded hills. It is about a mile long, and a quarter to half a mile in width; but it is increasing rapidly every day, and no doubt the whole of the swamp which lies between it and the hills will soon be covered with buildings.
A large customhouse has been erected near the centre of the town, the foreign allotments being on the east side of it, and the native town chiefly on the west, so that foreigners and natives are kept each by themselves. A broad and deep canal has been dug round the town, and is connected with the bay at each end. It will be seen, therefore, that with the sea in front, and this canal carried round behind, the place can easily be completely isolated. Guardhouses are placed at the points of egress, and no one can go out or come in without the knowledge of the guards, and consequently of the Government. As I have already hinted, the Japanese have been much abused for this arrangement; but it is possible, indeed I think it highly probable, that it has been intended more for our protection than for anything else.
The new houses of the foreign merchants are generally one-storied bungalows, built almost entirely of wood and plaster. The joints of the timbers are tied together, or fastened in a way to allow the entire structure to rock or move to and fro during those earthquakes which are so common and sometimes so destructive in this part of the world. Godowns for the storing of merchandise are generally erected near the house of the merchant; and in many instances there is also a fireproof building on the premises, used for the protection of specie and the more valuable portion of the merchant's property. This is of the first importance in a country like Japan, where the buildings are so combustible in their nature, and where fires are almost of daily occurrence in all the large towns.
The native town is remarkable for one fine wide street which runs down its centre. Here are exposed for sale the various productions of the country in very large quantities. Bronzes, carvings in ivory, lacquer-ware, and porcelain, are all duly represented. The bronzes are mostly modern, of ugly shapes, and are chiefly remarkable for the large quantity of metal they contain, which one would think might have been applied to a more useful purpose. The small ivory carvings and. metal buckles for fastening the dress are great curiosities in their way. They are usually small, and represent men, women, monkeys, and all sorts of animals and plants. They exhibit the skill of the carver in a very favourable light, and are certainly wonderful examples of patience and industry. Some collections of these articles were shown in the late International Exhibition in London, and were much admired. A writer in the 'Times' describes them in the following terms: — "The designs in some of these [the metal buckles] are irresistibly grotesque, and at once recall to mind the little black woodcuts with which Mr. Leech began his connexion with 'Punch.' Probably every object in this collection is by a different artist; yet, though in some the designs are so minute as to require a magnifying glass to see them well, all are treated with the same broad humour, so that it is almost impossible to avoid downright laughter as you examine them. There is one figure of a man timidly venturing to coax a snarling dog, which is inimitable in its funny expression; and so also is the expression on another's face who is frightened by a ghost. And all these works, the reader must remember, are not mere sketches, but are solid little pieces of metal-work, the background being of bronze, and the raised figures in relief being either gold, silver, steel, or platinum, or, as in most cases, of all four metals intermixed. It is evident, from the platinum being so freely used here, that the metal must be much more common with the Japanese than with us; and that the secret of melting it, to which our chemical knowledge has only just attained, has long been known to them. . . . In the side of the case where the metal buckles are shown we find in a collection of ivory carvings fresh proofs of the art, skill, and comic genius of the people. Let any one examine the litter of puppies sprawling over each other, the grotesque look of pain on the face of the woman who has been startled by a fox, and tumbled forward with her fingers under the edge of a basin; the triumphant aspect of the companion figure, who has succeeded in clapping his basin down on the fox; yet, notwithstanding their wonderful finish, all these figures are so small that they might be worn as brooches."
The modern lacquer-ware is good, but not to be compared to the fine old Miaco ware, which is extremely beautiful. There are a number of shops where this can be procured; but the prices asked, and obtained, are very high. The fine polish of the old lac is unrivalled, and the specimens are oftentimes covered with figures of gold. This ware is met with in the form of writing-boxes and boxes for holding papers, trays, cabinets, screens, &c. The finest pieces are often very small, and, although not of much use, are sufficient to show the high state of the art at the time when they were made.
I saw few examples of ancient porcelain, although we know that some fine pieces have found their way to Europe from Japan. The porcelain-shops are full of modern ware, chiefly remarkable for the fine eggshell cups; and I found one or two examples of good colouring. Generally I did not admire it, and considered it not equal to that now made in China, and far inferior to the ancient porcelain of that country. I observed some cups and basins, with paintings of English ladies not badly executed. This shows bow quick and imitative the Japanese are as a people, and how different they are from the slow-going Chinese.
In some of the shops I observed some large crystal-looking balls said to be of rock crystal. These were finely polished and clear — not a flaw of any kind could be detected in their structure — and were highly prized owing to their great size and beauty.
All sorts of toys were abundant, and some of them were most ingenious and pretty. There were glass balls, with numerous little tortoises inside them, whose heads, tails, and feet were in constant motion; humming-tops, with a number of trays inside, which all came out and spun round on the table when the top was set in motion; and a number of funny things in boxes like little bits of wood shavings, which perform the most curious antics when thrown into a basin containing water. Dolls of the most fascinating kind, with large, shaved, bobbing heads, crying out most lustily when pressed upon the stomach, were also met with in cartloads. One little article, so small one could scarcely see it, when put upon hot charcoal, gradually seemed to acquire life and animation, and moved about for all the world like a brilliant caterpillar. This large trade in toys shows us how fond the Japanese are of their children.
In one of the main streets there is a shop with an extensive collection of books, maps, charts, plain and coloured, for sale. A good map of the city of Yedo may be had here; but the inquirer for such a thing is invariably taken into a back room, when he is told that if the authorities knew of such a thing being sold the vendor would get his head taken off. To those who are ignorant of the language, a peculiar motion of the hand about the region of the neck explains the shopkeeper's meaning. This is a good stroke of policy, as it enables the seller to obtain a higher price for the map, and sends the lucky purchaser off highly delighted with his bargain. In the same shop I met with some really good illustrated books, containing views of the country and people about Miaco and Yedo, the two most famous cities in Japan. The former is the residence of the Mikado or Spiritual Emperor, and the latter that of the Ziogoon or Tycoon. In the art of drawing or sketching, the Japanese are far inferior to ourselves, but they are greatly in advance of the Chinese. Although foreigners have been only a short time residing in Yokuhama, their appearance, customs, and manners are faithfully represented by the Japanese artists. Here are to be found pictures of men and women — rather caricatures it must be confessed — engaged in amusements peculiar to highly civilized nations. Ladies riding on horseback, or walking — duly encompassed with a wonderful amount of crinoline — are fairly represented. Scenes in the Gan-ke-ro — a place got up by the Government for the amusement of foreigners — are also portrayed in a manner not particularly flattering to our habits and customs. Boisterous mirth, indulgence in wine and strong drinks, and the effects thereof upon those who are inclined to be quarrelsome, are all carefully depicted. Altogether, some very curious and instructive works of Japanese art may be picked up in shops of this description.
Opposite to the bookshop just noticed there is a menagerie containing a variety of animals for sale. In this place I remarked some extraordinary-looking monkeys, which appear to be a source of great attraction and amusement to the natives.
Little dogs were plentiful, and particularly noisy when a foreigner approached them. Then there were examples of deer, the eagle of the country, and singing birds of various kinds in cages. But the different varieties of fowls struck me more than anything else. The kind which I had already seen at Nagasaki was here also, and in addition a pure white bird with a fine long arched tail and long silky feathers hanging down from each side of the back. This is a very beautiful bird, and well worth being introduced into Europe if it is not already here.
The Gan-ke-ro, to which I have already alluded, is a large building at the back of the town, erected by the Government for the amusement of foreigners. Here, dinners, suppers, and plays, can always be "got up on the shortest notice." In other respects this and the buildings in the surrounding neighbourhood are much like the tea-houses in the town of Nagasaki. Scenes of debauchery and drunkenness are common, and even murder is not infrequent. Over such matters one would willingly draw a veil; but truth must be told in order to correct the impression which some persons have of Japan — namely, that it is a very Garden of Eden, and its inhabitants as virtuous as Adam and Eve before the fall.
The country in the vicinity of Yokuhama is very beautiful in its general features. It is evidently of volcanic origin. It consists of low hills and small valleys: the former having their sloping sides covered with trees and brushwood, and their summits, which form a kind of table-land, all under cultivation. The valleys are very fertile, and, having a good supply of water, are generally used for the cultivation of rice.
The geological structure of this part of Japan is well worthy of notice. In my walks in the country I came upon a little hill with perpendicular sides, thus forming a convenient object for observation. The following is its formation in layers: —
1st layer. — Vegetable soil: black, resembling peat.
2nd " Shells 2 to 3 feet in thickness. Oysters and other sea shells.
3rd " Gravel.
4th " Light-coloured clay, with pumice-stone and shells.
5th " Blueish-coloured clay, with pumice-stone and shells.
The Yokuhama cliffs are from 60 to 100 feet in height, nearly perpendicular, and their structure is as follows: —
1st layer. — Black peaty-looking soil, evidently containing much vegetable matter.
2nd — Red earth much mixed with gravel.
3rd — Gravel.
4th — Hard clay. This is intersected here and there with a layer of gravel, and sometimes with a layer of shells, principally oysters. The shells are seen sticking on the surface of this layer in all directions. Charred wood and pumice-stone are also met with in the clay.
Springs of excellent water are abundant on all the hill-sides. Some of them are deliciously cool even in the hottest days of summer, and afford a refreshing draught to the weary traveller.