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The country round Yedo Hill and valley Trees Autumnal foliage Views of Fusi-yama Cottages and farm-houses Flowers and vegetables Signs of high civilization Public baths Beautiful lanes and hedges Avenues and groves Civility of the people Dogs and their prejudices Street dogs Lapdogs Fire at the British Legation Mode of giving alarm Organization of Fire-brigade Wretched engines Presents from foreign governments More suitable ones pointed out.
DURING my stay in Yedo I made many excursions into the surrounding country sometimes on horseback, and at other times on foot but invariably accompanied with a guard of yakoneens. If the reader will accompany me on one of these excursions, I shall endeavour to show him something of the country, as I have already done of the town. Our road leads us to the westward, and we are soon clear of the straggling suburb of Sinagawa. The land is undulating in its general features, and consists of a succession of hills and valleys. The valleys are low and flat, and capable of being irrigated by the streams which flow down from the surrounding hills. Rice is the staple crop of these low lands, and it was now of a yellow hue and ready for the reaping-hook of the farmer. The hills which encircle the valleys are covered with brushwood and lofty trees. Here the gigantic Cryptomeria japonica, the noble pine, and the evergreen oak are peculiarly at home. Clumps of bamboos and the palm of the country (Chamζrops excelsa) give a sort of tropical character to the scenery. The vivid hues of the autumnal foliage are most striking, and produce a wonderful and beautiful effect upon the landscape. The sumach and various species of maples have now put on their varied shades of colour yellow, red, and purple; the leaves of the azalea are changing into a deep, glowing crimson; and these masses of "all hues" contrast well with the green foliage of the oaks and pines. As the eye wanders over these valleys and hills, it rests at last on a conical mountain in the background, some 14,000 feet in height, and nearly covered with snow: this is Fusi-yama, the holy mountain of Japan. It would certainly be difficult in all the world to find a scene of greater natural beauty than this.
As we rode onwards we passed many snug little suburban residences, farm-houses, and cottages, having little gardens in front containing a few of the favourite flowering-plants of the country. A remarkable feature in the Japanese character is, that, even to the lowest classes, all have an inherent love for flowers, and find in the cultivation of a few pet plants an endless source of recreation and unalloyed pleasure. If this be one of the tests of a high state of civilization amongst a people, the lower orders amongst the Japanese come out in a most favourable light when contrasted with the same classes amongst ourselves. Vegetables, too, were observed in abundance. All foreigners who visit Japan remark on the little flavour possessed by the vegetables of the country. This is probably owing to the peaty nature of the soil. Although dark in colour and apparently rich in vegetable matter, yet it has not the strength or substance of the soil which is found (for example) in the rich alluvial plain of the Yang-tze-kiang in China.
In one of the villages through which we passed we observed what appeared to be a family bathing-room. The baths at the time were full of persons of both sexes, old and young, apparently of three or four generations, and all were perfectly naked. This was a curious exhibition to a foreigner, but the reader must remember we are now in Japan. Bathing-houses or rooms, both public and private, are found in all parts of the Japanese empire in the midst of crowded cities, or, as we here see, in country villages. The bath is one of the institutions of the country; it is as indispensable to a Japanese as tea is to a Chinaman. In the afternoon, in the evening, and up to a late hour at night, the bath is in full operation. Those who can afford it have baths in their own houses for the use of themselves and their families; the poorer classes, for a very small sum, can enjoy themselves at the public baths. After coming in from a long journey, or when tired with the labours of the day, the Japanese consider a bath to be particularly refreshing and enjoyable; and it is probably on this account, as well as for cleanliness, that it is so universally employed. The stern moralist of Western countries will no doubt condemn the system of promiscuous bathing, as it is contrary to all his ideas of decency; on the other hand, there are those who tell us that the custom only shows simplicity and innocence such as that which existed in the Garden of Eden before the fall of man. All I can say is, that it is the custom of the country to bathe in this way, and that, if appealed to on the subject, the Japanese would probably tell us that many of the customs amongst ourselves such, for example, as our mode of dressing and dancing are much more likely to lead to immorality than bathing, and are not so useful nor so healthy; at any rate, the practice cannot be attributed to habits of primitive innocence in this case, as no people in the world are more licentious in their behaviour than the Japanese.
Never in my wanderings in any other country did I meet with such charming lanes as we passed through on this occasion. Sometimes they reminded me of what I had met with in some of the country districts of England; but I was compelled, notwithstanding early prejudices, to admit that nothing in England even could be compared to them. Large avenues and groves of pines, particularly of Cryptomeria, were frequently met with, fringing the roads, and affording most delicious shade from the rays of the sun. Now and then magnificent hedges were observed, composed sometimes of evergreen oaks of various species, sometimes of Cryptomeria japonica and other evergreens. These were kept carefully clipped, and in some instances they were trained to a great height, reminding one of those high hedges of holly or yew which may frequently be met with in the parks or gardens of our English nobility. Everywhere the cottages and farm-houses had a neat and clean appearance, such as I had never observed in any other part of the East. Frequently we came upon tea-houses for the refreshment of travellers; and these had little gardens and fish-ponds in their rear, of which glimpses were obtained as we rode slowly by. The scene was always changing and always beautiful hill and valley, broad roads and shaded lanes, houses and gardens, with a people industrious, but unoppressed with toil, and apparently happy and contented.
Such is the appearance of the sylvan scenery in the vicinity of Yedo. I could scarcely fancy myself on the borders of one of the largest and most populous cities in the East, with a population of two millions of human beings, and covering nearly a hundred square miles of land. As we rode through this charming scenery, the stillness was broken only by the rustling of the leaves of the trees and the tread of our horses' feet. The people in the villages through which we passed were quiet and civil, and did not annoy us in any way. Little urchins sometimes shouted out To-jin, To-jin, as we passed by a term which means Chinaman, but which probably is also used to designate a foreigner, or one who is not a native of Japan. I am not aware that the term is meant as an offensive one, and it certainly does not appear quite so bad as Fan-kwei, or Pih-kwei that is, foreign devil, or white devil terms applied to us in China rather too frequently. The dogs were the only animals which showed their enmity to us, sand this they did in a manner not to be mistaken. They rushed out of the houses, and barked at us in the most furious manner; but they are cowardly withal, and generally keep at a prudent distance.
These dogs appear to be of the same breed as the common Chinese dog, and both have probably sprung originally from the same stock. It is curious that they should have the same antipathy to foreigners as their masters. For, however civil and even kind the natives of Japan and China appear to be, yet there is no doubt that nine-tenths of them hate and despise us. Apparently such feelings are born with them, and they really cannot help themselves.
That we are allowed to live and travel and trade in these countries is only because one class makes money out of us, and another and a larger one is afraid of our power. I fear we must come to the conclusion, however unwillingly, that these are the motives which keep Orientals on their good behaviour, and force them to tolerate us amongst them. The poor dogs have the same feelings implanted in their nature, but they have not the same hypocrisy, and therefore their hate is visible. As watch-dogs they are admirable, and that is almost the only use to which they are applied. Old Dutch writers inform us that these street dogs belong to no particular individual, but that they are denizens of particular streets public property, as it were and that they are regarded with a kind of superstitious feeling by the natives. They are "the only idlers in the country." I think these statements may be received as doubtful, or only partially true. Although some of these dogs may have neither home nor master, yet by far the greater portion have both; and if the inhabitants look upon them as sacred animals, and have any superstitious feelings regarding them, they certainly show these feelings of reverence in a peculiarly irreverent manner. On a warm summer afternoon these animals may be seen lying at full length in the public highway, apparently sound asleep; and it was not unusual for our attendants to kick and whip them out of our road in a most unceremonious way. On many of them the marks of the sharp swords of the yakoneens were plainly visible; and everything tended to show, that, if the dogs are regarded as sacred by some, the feeling fails to secure them from being cruelly ill-treated by the common people. It was not unusual to meet with wretched specimens in a half-starved condition, and covered with a loathsome disease. The fact that such animals were tolerated in the public streets almost leads one to believe that they must be regarded with superstitious feelings.
The lapdogs of the country are highly prized both by natives and by foreigners. They are small some of them not more than nine or ten inches in length. They are remarkable for snub-noses and sunken eyes, and are certainly more curious than beautiful. They are carefully bred; they command high prices even amongst the Japanese; and are dwarfed, it is said, by the use of saki a spirit to which their owners are particularly partial. Like those of the larger breed already noticed, they are remarkable for the intense hatred they bear to foreigners.
After a most pleasant excursion we found ourselves at the gates of the British Legation, just as it was getting dark. The evenings were now cold, and some new stoves had been put up in the dining-room. The first gong had sounded, and we were getting ready for dinner a meal for which the excursion into the country had fully prepared us. But the day was not to end so agreeably as we had supposed. A pipe leading from the stove set fire to the roof of the dining-room, and for some time it was feared the whole of the Legation would be destroyed. The watchmen who surrounded the premises gave the first alarm to those outside by beating in a peculiar way upon the hollow stem of the bamboo. This emits a peculiar sound, which is heard a very long way off. Then the large fire-bell sounded its alarm peal a sound which was taken up by other bells, and repeated all over Yedo. These fire-bells are established in all Japanese towns, and the custody of them is regularly organized. The manner in which they are tolled informs the people whether the fire be near or afar off whether they ought to come to render assistance at once, or hold themselves in readiness to come on a second warning. On the present occasion all the arrangements seemed to work most admirably. The gates round the Legation were instantly closed and guarded by armed yakoneens. The members of the fire-brigade and those who had duties to perform were allowed to enter, but all others were strictly excluded. In a few minutes the place was full of armed men. Several hundreds were running about in all directions in the garden, in the rooms, in the passages, and on the roofs of the different buildings; but watchful eyes were upon them everywhere, and not an article of any kind was stolen. The Minister's table was covered with plate; his drawing-room contained numerous articles of interest and value, both native and foreign; yet, however tempting these things might have been, not a single article was missing. Altogether I had never seen such a perfect system of organization. In China it would have been a most difficult matter to have restrained the mob, who would have seized the opportunity to plunder; here, however, it seemed perfectly easy, and every one was under the most complete control. Scenes like this must be constantly happening in Yedo. Fires are almost of daily occurrence in some part or other of the city; and, owing to the houses being principally built of wood, the fires spread with great rapidity. The officers of the Government and the members of the different fire-brigades have constant practice; and this, no doubt, accounts for their perfect system of organization, which was the admiration of every one on the present occasion. Here, however, our eulogium must end.
The engines which were brought to put out the fire were the most wretched machines I ever saw. A little pond in the garden, in which there was a good supply of water, was not twenty yards from the house; yet the engine had to be filled with buckets by hand, there being no hose to connect it with the pond. The stream of water it threw out was little larger than that thrown by a hand-syringe, and much less than could be discharged from a good garden engine. A number of men carried water in buckets up ladders to the roof of the building, and emptied it upon the flames; but here, strange to say, there was no system no passing the buckets from hand to hand; every man was doing what was right in his own eyes; all were giving orders, and each one was making all the noise he could. Luckily the fire had been discovered early, and was easily extinguished, as the night was calm. Had it only got a little ahead before the discovery, or had a smart breeze been blowing at the time, the British Legation in Yedo, with the surrounding temples, would, in all probability, have been burned to the ground.
The fire was at last extinguished, but, ere this was accomplished, a considerable amount of damage had been done to the buildings. The rooms, papered in Japanese style, and divided from each other by moving panels, were strewed with charred wood, broken tiles, and deluged with water; the pretty garden was covered with rubbish, and several valuable plants hopelessly ruined. But in the midst of this we were all thankful that the flames had been subdued, and that we had still ample room in other quarters of the Legation. And now the last scene of all took place, and a very sensible one it was. The high officers who had been superintending the fire brigade formed a kind of procession, and, with lanterns, marched up the ladders and over the roof, to judge for themselves and make sure that the flames were really extinguished. When everything was found in a satisfactory condition, orders were given for the people to leave, and in a few minutes the crowd of coolies, firemen, and two-sworded yakoneens, had disappeared as quickly as they came.
A short time before I visited Japan the English Government had made the Tycoon a present of a pretty little steam yacht, which I am afraid will be of little use to His Majesty; and during my visit to Yedo the Government of the United States of America had presented to the Japanese all the newest and most destructive implements of war, and also had sent an officer over to instruct them how to use them. Should other nations in the West feel desirous of making presents, I would strongly recommend them to send out some good fire-engines, which would be of far more value to the Japanese than implements of destruction, which may one day be turned against the givers.