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Residence of the Abbι Girard Singing-birds Commercial quarter of Yedo Shops Paper, and the uses to which it is applied Articles of food Monkeys eaten Fire-proof buildings Nipon Bag Ah-sax-saw Its bazaars, temples, and tea-gardens Fine chrysanthemums Tea-plant The Yedo river The city opposite Yedo Temple of Eco-ying Its origin Crowds of people Curious scene in the temple Earthquakes Their frequency How they are dreaded by the natives Straw shoes of men and horses.
ON the 23rd of November I had an appointment with the Abbe Girard, who was formerly a missionary in Loochoo, and was now interpreter to M. de Bellecourt, the French Consul-General, or Chargι d'Affaires, in Japan. The Abbe, who was well acquainted with Yedo, was good enough to offer to take me to some places of interest which I had not yet seen. I found him residing in a little temple near the French Legation, and well guarded with yakoneens. He had in his house some rare specimens of Japanese singing-birds, particularly one known to foreigners as the Japanese nightingale. This is a curious bird, if the stories which are told about its habits are true. It is said to inhabit the recesses of dark woods, and to shun the light of day. Hence in a domestic state it is usually kept in comparative darkness, a wooden box being dropped over its cage. This box has a small paper window, in order to admit a little subdued light. In this condition it sings charmingly, and has a full, clear, ringing note, wonderfully loud for so small a bird. The Japanese name of this little songster is Ogo-yezu.
After breakfast the Abbe and I mounted our horses, and, accompanied by our two sets of yakoneens, set out to visit the temple of Ah-sax-saw, which lies on the eastern or south-eastern side of Yedo. Our route led us, not only through a portion of the "official quarter," which I had frequently visited, but also through the main streets of the trading part of the city. I confess I was rather disappointed. The streets were much wider and cleaner than those of the Chinese towns; but the contents of the shops appeared to be of little value. One must, however, bear in mind that Yedo is not a manufacturing or trading town in the usual sense in which the term is used. Hence, perhaps, I ought to have expected to see only the necessaries, or perhaps a few of the luxuries of life, exhibited in the shops here. Silk and cotton shops were numerous, and, if they did not obtain custom, it was not for want of the use of means. Men and boys were stationed in front of the doors trying all their arts to induce the passersby to go in and spend their money. Lacquer-ware, bronzes, and porcelain were exhibited in abundance, as were also umbrellas, pipes, toys, and paper made up into every conceivable article.
I may here mention in passing that Japanese paper is made chiefly out of the bark of the paper mulberry (Broussonetia papyrifera). It is particularly well suited for decorative purposes, such as the papering of rooms. It has a glossy, silky, and comfortable appearance, and many of the patterns are extremely chaste and pretty. The fan pattern, which looked as if fans had been thrown all over the surface, used to be much admired by the foreign residents. For some reason it is made in very small sheets, which would render it rather inconvenient to our paper-hangers. This, however, is no detriment in Japan, where labour is cheap. Japanese oil-paper is of a very superior quality, and is used for a variety of purposes. For a very small sum one can be clothed in a "Mackintosh" coat and trowsers capable of keeping out any amount of rain. As a wrapper to protect silk goods and other valuable fabrics from wet and damp it is invaluable, and owing to its great strength it is often used instead of a tin or lead casing. Despatch-boxes, looking like leather, and very hard and durable, are also made of paper, and so are letter-bags, purses, cigar-cases, umbrellas, and many other articles in daily use. In addition to those purposes to which paper is applied in western countries, in Japan it is used for windows instead of glass, for the partitions of rooms instead of lath and plaster, for fans and fan-cases, for twine, and in a variety of other ways.
Articles used as food were displayed in abundance in all the streets of the commercial quarter. The vegetables and fruits of the country, such as I have named elsewhere, were in profusion everywhere, and apparently cheap. The bay supplies the good people of Yedo with excellent fish, and consequently the fishmonger was duly represented amongst the shopkeepers, where his wares could be purchased either dead or alive, fresh or salted. Butchers' shops were also observed as we rode along, showing that the Japanese do not live on vegetables and fish only. It is true that in these shops we did not observe any beef, for the Japanese do not kill their bullocks and eat them as we do; and, as the sheep is not found in the country, we, of course, could not see any mutton. Venison, however, was common, and monkeys were observed in several of the shops. I shall never forget the impression produced upon me when I saw the latter hanging up in front of a butcher's door. They were skinned, and had a most uncomfortable resemblance to the members of the human family. I dare say the Japanese consider the flesh of the monkey very savoury; but there is no accounting for prejudices and tastes, and I must confess that I must have been very hungry indeed before I could have dined off these human-looking monkeys.
In our ride through the town we remarked a large number of fire-proof houses, or godowns, for the protection of money or valuable goods in case of fire. These have thick walls of mud and stone, and are most useful in a country like this, where fires occur so frequently. Wooden watch-towers were also numerous in all parts of the city. These are posts of observation, from which a fire can be observed at a distance and an alarm given. Buckets of water were seen in every street, and frequently on the tops of the houses; and a kind of fire-police are continually on the watch by night and by day, ready to give instant notice and assistance.
After riding in an easterly direction for some time, we arrived at the celebrated Nipon-Bas, or "Bridge of Japan." This crosses a canal which is fed by a river a little to the south of the bridge, and which is apparently connected with the moat which encircles the official quarter and the palace of the Tycoon. The bridge is a strong wooden structure resting on piles, and riveted together with massive clamps of iron. To a foreign eye there is nothing very remarkable in its appearance; but by the Japanese it is considered one of the wonders of Yedo. From this bridge the distances to all parts of the empire are measured in ri; and hence it is usual to say, such a place is so many ri distant not from Yedo, but from Nipon Bas. A ri is about equal to two and a half English miles.
ride of about two hours brought us to Ah-sax-saw. Its massive temple
was seen looming at the further end of a broad avenue. An ornamental
arch, or gateway, was thrown across the avenue, which had a very good
effect; a huge belfry stood on one side; and a number of large trees,
such as pines and Salisburia adiantifolia, surrounded the temple.
Each side of the avenue was lined with shops and stalls, open in
front like a bazaar, in which all sorts of Japanese things were
exposed for sale. Toys of all kinds, such as humming-tops,
squeaking-dolls with very large heads, puzzles, and pictures were
numerous, and apparently in great demand. Looking-glasses,
tobacco-pipes, common lacquer-ware, porcelain, and such like
articles, were duly represented. Had the whole been covered over with
glass, it would have been not unlike the Lowther Arcade in London.
Crowds of people followed us as we entered the avenue, who had
evidently seen little of Europeans before; but although somewhat
noisy, they treated us with the most perfect civility and respect.
Bridge Scene in Yedo. From a native sketch
On our arrival at the head of the avenue, we found ourselves in front of the huge temple, and ascended its massive steps. Its wide doors stood open; candles were burning on the altars, and priests were engaged in their devotions. It was the old story over again unmeaning sounds, beating of drums, tinkling of bells, &c., which I had so often heard when a guest in the Buddhist temples of China.
The temple has numerous tea-houses attached to it for the accommodation of visitors and devotees. Adjoining them are many pretty gardens with fish-ponds, ornamental bridges, artificial rockwork, and avenues of plum and cherry trees, which seem the favourite ones at all the tea-houses and temples of Japan.
This place is most famed in the vicinity of Yedo for the variety and beauty of its chrysanthemums. At the time of our visit they were in full bloom, and most certainly would have delighted the eyes of our English florists had they found themselves so far away from Hammersmith, the Temple, or Stoke Newington. I procured some extraordinary varieties, most peculiar in form and in colouring, and quite distinct from any of the kinds at present known in Europe. One had petals like long thick hairs, of a red colour, but tipped with yellow, looking like the fringe of a shawl or curtain; another had broad white petals striped with red like a carnation or camellia; while others were remarkable for their great size and brilliant colouring. If I can succeed in introducing these varieties into Europe, they may create as great a change amongst chrysanthemums as my old protιgιe the modest "Chusan daisy" did when she became the parent of the present race of pompones.1
In order to make sure of getting the finest varieties, I determined to take suckers from those in bloom at the time of my visit, and further to take these same suckers home under my own care. Having settled the price with some difficulty, I then intimated to the proprietor my wish that he should dig them up forthwith. To this he made many objections, not on his own account, but on mine. "They would be inconvenient for me to carry," he said, and "he was quite willing to dig them up next morning and bring them himself to the Legation." I do not know that the man wanted to deceive me by bringing different and inferior kinds to those I had purchased, but I had been taken in once or twice in this way in China, and had determined not to be taken in again. I therefore expressed my best thanks for his good intentions towards me, but got him to let me have the suckers, to take home under my own charge.
The Japanese gardener understands the art of chrysanthemum culture rather better than we do, and produces blooms of wonderful size. This is done by great care, good soil, and by allowing only one or two blooms to be perfected at the end of a shoot.
The tea-plant was common in these gardens, and was frequently used as an edging for the walks. In this position it was kept clipped, and had a pretty and novel appearance. In other places in this district I observed it cultivated rather extensively for the sake of its leaves. There is also in the gardens of Ah-sax-saw a collection of living birds and other animals for the amusement of visitors who may happen to be fond of this branch of natural history. I observed green pigeons, speckled crows, a fine large eagle, gold and silver pheasants, mandarin ducks, rabbits, and squirrels amongst the collection. Altogether, there are many things here calculated to amuse and instruct the good people of Yedo when they come out for a holiday; and when the plum and cherry trees are in blossom, these gardens must be very enjoyable.
Leaving Ah-sax-saw, with its temples, tea-gardens, and chrysanthemums, we returned up the avenue by which we came, and were again followed by crowds of wondering natives. Taking now a southerly direction, we came upon a broad river which flows from the eastward, and empties itself into the bay of Yedo. It is about as large as the Thames at Richmond or Kew. We crossed it by a wooden bridge, and then entered that part of the town called by the Japanese Moo-co-gee-me, or "island opposite to Yedo." This is, in fact, the Southwark or Borough of the capital. It is large and densely populated; the streets run mostly at right angles with each other; and it is intersected by a number of wide canals.
Riding along the banks of the river, we soon found ourselves nearly clear of houses and in the country. As we looked back over the river, the city of Yedo, with its temples, watch-towers, and undulating wooded hills, lay spread out before us, and formed a picture of striking beauty. Nearly all the land where we were was one vast garden; or to speak more correctly, it was covered with teagardens and nurseries. There were hedges of single camellias (C. sasanqua), white and red, and China roses, all in full bloom, although it was now late in November. Many evergreen trees were there, clipped into fanciful shapes; and the indispensable flowering plums and cherries were in great abundance, although now leafless and having put on their wintry garb.
We paid a visit to a number of tea-houses and gardens; and from the way in which they were arranged and planned, no doubt they are patronized by thousands during the spring and summer seasons, when picnic-loving and pleasure-seeking Yedoites go out to enjoy themselves. Everywhere we were politely received, and tea pressed upon us by the proprietors of the gardens.
We were now some ten or twelve miles from the foreign Legations, and declining day warned us to hasten our return. On our way back we followed for some distance the course of the river. There is a fine broad embankment all the way along the left bank, which we could not help contrasting with that which is now being formed at Pimlico and Chelsea. But the Yedo embankment has probably been in existence for many generations a monument of the foresight and enterprise of this extraordinary people.
In this part of Yedo there is a celebrated Buddhist temple named Eco-ying, which was erected to the memory of 180,000 human beings who lost their lives in one night about 150 years ago. As the story runs, on that night occurred one of those fearful earthquakes which so heavily afflict this beautiful country. Houses were thrown down in all directions, and hundreds were buried alive in the ruins; conflagrations naturally followed, and this city of wooden houses was almost destroyed.
Our attendant yakoneens kindly offered to take us to this celebrated temple, which was only a very little out of our way on our route homewards. As we approached it I observed in front a statue of Buddha, and some upright stones carved with an inscription which told the visitor of the fearful catastrophe and where the victims were buried. When we ascended the stone steps in front of the temple, a noisy crowd followed and surrounded us; we being now in a part of the town densely populated, and seldom if ever visited by foreigners. In an instant we had the yakoneens of the district in addition to our own by our sides, in order to protect us from insult or injury. Although noisy enough in all conscience, this crowd of people were good-humoured, and, although naturally anxious to look upon such strange beings as we were considered to be, they were perfectly civil, making way for us in any direction we wished to go.
On entering the temple a curious scene was presented to our eyes. Candles were burning dimly on the altars, and incense filled the murky atmosphere with a heavy perfume. An old reverend-looking man occupied a kind of pulpit, and was engaged in a sermon or address to a number of young men, women, and children. This reverend gentleman and his youthful congregation had a part of the temple to themselves a sort of chapel in fact, which was separated from the rest of the building by a network of string; not strong certainly, but perfectly sufficient for the purpose in this orderly country. On our entrance, followed by a noisy crowd, the preacher continued his discourse apparently as if he was perfectly unconscious of our presence. It was very different, however, with the members of his congregation: all of them transferred their attention from the preacher to us; turning round, they fixed their eyes upon us, and commenced laughing and chatting in a manner which, if complimentary to us, certainly was not so to their reverend instructor. Not willing to annoy the old man, we did not prolong our visit in the temple, but left him to finish his discourse, and his youthful audience to profit by his teaching.
Earthquakes such as that which this temple and its monuments were designed to commemorate are fortunately rare even in Japan. In the days when Taiko-sama was king (about the year 1595), we are told that an earthquake of frightful violence took place. "The sea rose to an extraordinary height, especially in the strait between Nipon and Sikok, attended with terrible destruction of life and property." In 1793 another terrible earthquake took place. "The summit of a high mountain in the province of Fisen, west of Simbara, sunk entirely down. Boiling water rushed in torrents from all parts of the cavity, and a vapour like a thick smoke covered the mountain. Three weeks after, there was an eruption from a crater about half a league from the summit. The boiling lava flowed down in streams, and for many days the surrounding country was in flames. A month after, the whole island of Kiu-siu was shaken by an earthquake, felt principally, however, in the neighbourhood of Simbara. It reduced that part of the province of Figo opposite to Simbara to a deplorable condition; and even altered the whole line of coast, sinking many vessels which lay in the harbours." The last visitation of any great violence occurred in 1854. In Yedo alone it is supposed that 200,000 human beings were destroyed at this time, partly by the falling buildings and partly by fires, which were raging in all parts of the city, occasioned by the earthquake. The little town of Simoda, a few miles outside of Yedo bay, was laid in ruins at this time, and the Russian frigate 'Diana' was wrecked in the harbour.
During my residence in Japan, earthquakes, although not of a violent character, were of frequent occurrence, and generally took place during the night. The sound of creaking timbers used to remind me of my experience in the cabin of a small steamer labouring in a heavy sea during or after a gale of wind. Then my bed used to move about in a most uneasy manner, as if some strong power was endeavouring to carry it bodily away, but, changing its mind, had set it down again. Bishop Smith, in his 'Ten Weeks in Japan,' gives an amusing account of his first experience in this way. He says, "At 4 A.M. on the morning following my first night of sleeping in the Legation, I was suddenly awoke by a loud rattling noise at my door, and a forcible lifting up of my bed, and its heavy descent with a violent jerk to the ground. I shouted again and again to no purpose, warning the supposed intruder from my room, and making it perceptible that I was on the alert. A continued shaking of the bed, and a rumbling noise throughout the building, at first suggested the suspicion that our native guards were right, and that I had to prepare myself for the irruption of some invader. The foe, however, came from a quarter which I little suspected. An English voice in a distant apartment exclaimed, 'An earthquake!' The sign of panic amongst the native population was soon audible. The priests rushed to the temples and commenced reciting their Buddhist chants. The monks began their ringing of bells, and beating of drums and gongs at the neighbouring shrines. The Japanese domestics fled into the open air, and for the moment all was confusion and dismay."
The natives of the country seem to dread these earthquakes even more than the foreigners who are now located amongst them. An intelligent Japanese, who spoke English well, expressed his fears that his country would one day disappear from the surface of the globe, and sink down under the waves of the ocean. He had been told that an island out at sea, once fair and verdant, covered with people and houses and trees, was now nowhere visible, and that ships sailed over the spot where it once was.
Earthquakes are so common in Japan that meteorologists have a division in their tables in order to mark their occurrence. Dr. Hepburn, to whom I am indebted for a table showing the temperature of Kanagawa, and which I shall have occasion to mention hereafter, has one of these columns in his table. By a reference to it, it will be found that from the 1st of November, 1859, to the 31st of October, 1860, no less than twenty-eight shocks had been felt. In November, 1861, four are marked, and in February, 1861, there are the same number. This will give some idea of the frequency of the shocks, and of the volcanic nature of the country. When we consider how often these earthquakes happen, and how awfully violent they sometimes are, it is scarcely to be wondered at if the natives of the country view them with feelings of awe and dread, and express their fears that some day their fair and beautiful land may disappear in the waters of the sea.
As the Temple of Eco-ying is situated in a part of the town rarely visited by foreigners, crowds of people came to see us take our departure. The police of the district escorted us beyond their boundary, and we were soon out of the crowd and trotting onwards through the principal streets of the town. On the way home I observed that our road was strewed with straw shoes which had been worn by men and horses. All the horses wear shoes of straw, which, when worn out, are replaced by others, the old ones being left on the road where they are cast off.
1 Most of them have arrived safely in England.