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Return to Japan — Kite-flying at Nagasaki — Spring flowers — Field crops — Gale of wind in Van Dieman's Strait — Arrive at Yokuhama — Insect and shell collecting — Reported difficulty in getting assistance from the natives — How to manage Orientals — Rare beetle — Dr. Adams's account of its capture — Curious mode of catching fish — Visit Kanagawa — Agriculture in spring — Paddy cultivation — Mode of manuring the land — Winter crops nearly ripe — Trees and flowers — "The Queen of the Primroses."
IN the spring of 1861 I returned to Japan, my object being to inspect the natural productions of the country during the spring and summer months, as I had already done in the autumn and winter. The steam-ship ' Scotland,' Captain Bell, in which I had taken my passage, was bound for Kanagawa, but called at Nagasaki on her way. The day of our arrival at Nagasaki was a holiday with the natives, and all were dressed up in their gayest clothing. One of the chief sources of amusement appeared to be kite-flying. In the air above the town, and all over the country, there was a swarm of paper kites, which I at first sight mistook for a flock of seagulls. The kites were generally of a diamond shape, and were painted in gay colours of red, white, and blue. In every street, on the house-tops, on the hill-sides, and in the fields, there were numbers of both sexes and of all ages thus amusing themselves, and all seemed gay, contented, and happy.
There is a famous temple, named Dyto-cutch, situated on the hill-side above the town, which is well worth a notice. The view from this place, at the time of my visit, was extremely beautiful and full of interest. The whole town, the lake-like harbour, and the panorama of hills near and far off lay spread out before me. Many of the plum and cherry trees were now in full bloom. Most remarkable amongst them was a double-blossomed cherry, a variety producing bunches of flowers nearly as large as noisette roses. This is an ornamental tree of the first class. Being spring-time (April 13th), many other trees were bursting into flower; the leaves of all were freshly green; and, as the sun was shining brightly in a clear sky, the place was most enjoyable.
As the 'Scotland' remained in the harbour for two days, I had an opportunity of taking an excursion into the country to note the condition of its agricultural productions. The barley and wheat crops were now in ear, and would be fit for the sickle at the end of the month or the beginning of May. The cabbage-oil plant (Brassica sinensis) was now in full bloom, and filled the air with the fragrance of its yellow blossoms. These winter crops, when ripe, would be removed, and their places occupied by beans, sweet potatoes, melons, &c., the summer productions of this part of Japan. Most of the low rice-lands had been lying fallow during the winter, but would soon be irrigated and prepared for this crop, which is the staple production in all parts of the East.
On the hill-sides and in gardens numerous varieties of the azalea were in full bloom, but the largest garden-plants belong to the Azalea variegata tribe, and these were not yet in flower. Kerria japonica, Prunus sinensis (single and double), camellias, and many other plants identical with those of China, were also covered with their pretty blossoms.
Many pleasant and agreeable days might have been spent at this time in Nagasaki, but it was necessary that the good ship 'Scotland' should move on. As we passed out of the harbour, I could well have wished to steer north for the entrance to the Inland Sea, in order to feast my eyes once more on its wild and romantic scenery. But the 'Scotland' had no "Queen's presents" on board, and as the outer passage, if not the most agreeable, was the safest in the present state of our knowledge, and the quickest, we steered in a southerly direction along the coast of Kiu-siu, for Van Dieman's Strait. This strait, with its peaked mountains and active volcanoes, has been noticed in a former chapter. It seems to be remarkable for the fearful storms which sweep through it from the Pacific Ocean. The first time I passed through we had a very heavy gale, and now, about the same place, we were doomed to encounter another equally severe. In order to get a little shelter we made for the high land near Cape Chichakoff. This time I had the advantage of being in a steamer. As the coast is not well known, we did not make any attempt to find an anchorage, but steamed under the high land and then stopped the engines. A current carried us slowly to the eastward towards the Pacific, and the gale told us, in language not to be mistaken, whenever the ship had drifted beyond the shelter of the land. Whenever this was felt, steam was got up, and we moved back again under the shelter of the Cape. For two days we were detained by this gale, now drifting outwards with the current, and now steaming back for the shelter afforded by the land.
On the evening of the second day the gale moderated a little, and it was determined to steam out into the waters of the North Pacific Ocean, where we spent anything but a pleasant night. During the next two days we were sailing up along the land, and passed the Bungo and Kino channels, which lead into the Inland Sea. On the morning of the 19th we were abreast of Cape Idsu, inside of which is the Bay of Simoda and the town of that name, so long the residence of Mr. Townsend Harris, the United States Minister. The weather was now fine, the sea was smooth, and a considerable number of junks were passed sailing in the direction of Yedo bay. Still, there was nothing on this coast like the busy, bustling scenes which are daily observed in fine weather on the coast of China. We must have more knowledge of the interior of the Japanese islands before we can say whether this be owing to the less populous condition of the country or to the habits of the people. The fact is as I have stated; the reason of such a difference will, no doubt, be explained in due time. In the afternoon we were opposite the islands near the entrance to Yedo bay, and the same night dropped our anchor abreast of the town of Yokuhama. I left the ship on the following morning, and took up my residence on shore.
Besides timber trees and other ornamental plants suitable to our climate, and likely to prove valuable in England, I had determined to make a collection of various other objects of natural history, particularly insects and land-shells. With this view I had secured the services of Tunga, my old Chinese servant, and had brought him over with me from China to Japan. We were now out all day long, ransacking every valley and every hill for the objects we had in view. Tunga soon picked up a few words of the language of the country; and, as he was civil and inoffensive in all his ways, and carried a few cash in his pocket to reward those who assisted him, he grew very popular amongst the country people. When making collections of insects and shells in China, we always found it a matter of the first importance to enlist in our service the children about the cottages and farm-houses amongst the hills. In this way we were able to secure many specimens of great interest which never came under our own observation during the day. I therefore determined to pursue the same course with the Japanese. Some of my friends, to whom I mentioned my plans, informed me that such a system would not succeed in Japan, for that it had been already tried and had failed. Liberal rewards in money had been offered again and again, but the country people apparently did not want money, or, at all events, would not take the trouble to earn it. An experience of eighteen or nineteen years amongst Orientals led me to doubt the truth of the conclusion at which my friends had arrived. Human nature, I argued, must be much the same all over the East, if not all over the world; and what a little management with kindness and liberality could effect in China, might surely be accomplished in Japan.
With these principles to guide us, Tunga and myself went to work in this new field and upon this virgin soil. We began by collecting for ourselves, and this excited no little wonder in the minds of the natives. Then we sat down in their houses, or in the verandahs at their doors, and exhibited to them the treasures in our boxes; and so, having got into their good graces, we encouraged them to enter into our service by small presents of the copper cash of the country to show them that we were really in earnest, and that they would be paid for their exertions. I had several sketches of the rare Damaster blaptoides, which had been given me by Mr. Stevens of Bloomsbury Street, London. These I distributed amongst them, and offered a liberal reward for each specimen of that remarkable insect. In this way we soon had hundreds of people of all ages enlisted in our service. The country round Yokuhama was divided into districts; each district was visited at stated times, and, as we were seen approaching in the distance, the fact was telegraphed from village to village, and from hill to hill, by the clear, ringing voices of the children. The difficulty, if it ever existed, had been got over, and the Japanese proved to be as willing assistants in my researches as the Chinese had been.
While writing upon the subject of Japanese insects I take the liberty of quoting a letter published in the 'Zoologist' for June, 1860, from my friend Dr. Adams, of Her Majesty's surveying ship 'Actæon' on the capture of Damaster blaptoides in Japan.
"As I am in a good humour, having just fished up a new genus of mollusca from a pretty good depth, I will tell you at the risk of being tiresome all about it, as I am sure Adam White, at least, will be interested in the narrative.
"I was walking solitarily — for all hands had gone on board to dinner — along the shell-strewn strand of Taleu-Sima, a jolly little island, not far from the shores of Niphon — walking along in a brown study, smoking a little clay cutty-pipe, and thinking chiefly of the contempt in which I should be held if some of my 'very particular' friends saw me in this very disreputable 'rig,' for my neck was bare, and my coat was an old blue serge, and as for my hat, it was brown felt, and, I must say, a 'shocking bad one.' However, the sun was bright, the clear blue rippling sea was calm, the little island was clear and verdurous, and I smoked serenely. On a sudden my abstract downward gaze encountered a grotesque Coleopteron in a suit of black, stalking slowly and deliberately among the driftwood at my feet — stepping cautiously over the spillacan twigs, like a Catholic priest in a crowded thoroughfare. At once I knew my coleopterous friend to be Damaster blaptoides; for although my eyes are small, yet I have been assured by a young lady friend of mine — sometimes irreverently called 'Polly' — that they are penetrating; and my friend Adam White, when he warned me not to forget my 'Carabs,' had sent me a rough outline of the 'corpus' of Damaster. So I carefully lifted my unresisting sable friend from his native soil, and, after giving him a good long stare, I deposited him in a bottle. From his name and appearances, I judge him to be cousin to Blaps, and I turned over the rockweed for his brothers and other relations; but though Helops was there, Damaster was not. Puzzled, but not baffled, I conceived his taste might be more particular, so I ascended the steep green sides of the island, and cast about for rotten trees; nor was I long in discovering a very promising stump, nicely decayed, and full of holes enough to captivate the heart of any beetle. Being, however, fatigued with my scansorial efforts, I sat down before the citadel of Damaster, and assisted my deliberations by smoking a solemn pipe. Having propitiated Nicotiana and matured my plan of operations, I commenced the work of destruction, when, lo! among the vegetable debris I descried a long dusky leg, anon two more, and then, buried among the ruins, the struggling Damaster. In this manner was the rarest beetle known captured by a wandering disciple of Æsculapius, and an eccentric Fellow of the Linnæan Society."
Remarkable Beetle (Damaster blaptoides)
I had an opportunity of seeing a portion of Dr. Adams's treasures on board of the 'Actæon' in China. In addition to insects, he had a fine collection of sea-shells, which will prove of great interest to conchologists in Europe. His cabin was full of specimens illustrating the natural history of the different Oriental countries which he had visited in the 'Actæon.'
After this digression I will proceed with my narrative. During the last days of April the sea-shore was lined with natives of both sexes, who were busily engaged in catching a curious species of fish, which, it seems, visits these parts for a few days at this season of the year. The mode of catching the fish was novel and interesting. Each fisherman had a pair of decoys — that is, living fish of the same kind as the intended prey. A long line was attached to each fish, being fastened to the skin on the top of its head. The slack of this line was wound up on a piece of wood, and unrolled at the pleasure of the fisherman. Then a net was fastened to, and slung between, two bamboo poles, these forming the two sides of a triangle. The third side of the triangle was open, with the mouth of the net hanging beneath it, and in this state it was pushed forward into the sea. The line was now unrolled, and the decoys were sent forth into deeper waters, to make friends with other members of the tribe who were still free. A sufficient time being allowed for these gay deceivers to get a congregation around them and to expatiate on the luxuries of the land, the fisherman hauls the line gently home until the decoys and their near friends, who have followed them, get in the water above his net. The net is then lifted rapidly upwards out of the water, and decoys and decoyed are entangled in its meshes. The latter are taken out and placed in a basket on shore, while the former are sent to sea again in search of new friends.
This mode of fishing lasted for a few days only; the species in question appeared to come suddenly on the coast, and as suddenly to take its departure, first, however, leaving a good supply of its number to assist in feeding the inhabitants of Yokuhama and Yedo. It was a curious-looking animal, short, flabby, and blown up, looking as if it consisted chiefly of wind and blubber. Some of the natives said it was poisonous; but, if so, this could be only in certain conditions, for it was a great favourite with the Japanese, who cut it up, dried it in the sun, and preserved it for future use.
One morning towards the end of April I crossed the bay from Yokuhama to Kanagawa, accompanied by Mr. Clarke, of the house of Messrs. Dent and Co., established here. Our object was to visit some of the Buddhist temples in that part of the country, and to examine the vegetable productions and other objects of interest by the way. Landing at Kanagawa, we crossed the long, narrow town, and soon found ourselves in the open country behind it. The first object which attracted my attention was the change which had taken place in the appearance of the fields and the crops since I was last here. The low rice-lands, which had been lying fallow since the crop was gathered in November, were now being dug up, flooded with water, and manured. In China, bullocks and buffaloes are employed to plough the land; but in Japan it is prepared by manual labour alone: a pronged fork is employed to dig and break up the soil. Vegetable matter is used in a fresh state for manure, as in China. Women, old men, and children were employed on the edges of the fields, and on every hill-side, in cutting grass and weeds for this purpose. These, being scattered over the land and mixed with mud and water, rot in a very short space of time and afford nourishment to the rice-crops. A week or two after this fresh manure is thrown upon the land every trace of it disappears from the surface. It probably goes on decaying for some time underground, thus feeding in a peculiar manner the roots of the paddy with those gases given off during the process of decomposition.
In the corners of many fields little patches of land had been carefully dug and manured as seedbeds for rearing the young paddy. Each of these patches was banked round with earth and connected with a mountain-stream, so that it could be irrigated at pleasure. Some of these seed-beds had been already sown, and we observed the natives engaged in sowing others as we passed along.
On the dry hill-lands the crops of wheat and barley were coming into ear, beans and peas were in full bloom, the cabbage oil-plant (Brassica sinensis) here, as at Nagasaki, was seen in patches over the hill-sides, and the air was perfumed with its fragrant blossoms.
All countries are beautiful in spring, but Japan is pre-eminently so. The trees were now clothed with leaves of the freshest green, and many of the early flowering kinds were in full blossom. On every hill-side and in every cottage-garden there was some object of attraction. The double-blossomed cherry-trees and flowering peaches were most beautiful objects, loaded as they now were with flowers as large as little roses. Camellias, forming goodly-sized trees, were common in the woods, and early azaleas adorned the hill-sides with flowers of many hues. Here the Azalea obtusa, with flowers of the most dazzling red, was peculiarly at home. I found this species some years ago in the gardens of China, but no doubt its native habitat is Japan, and it requires the bright sunlight of the East to bring out in perfection its brilliant colour. Cydonia japonica was seen in a wild state, creeping amongst the grass, and covered with red blossoms; violets, often scentless, covered every bank; and several varieties of primrose (Primula cortusoides) were met with under trees in the shady woods.
The Buddhist temples, always situated in the most charming positions, and having fine examples of the trees and shrubs of the country, full grown and carefully protected, are objects of attraction at all seasons, but more particularly in spring. We visited many of these on our route; all of them were interesting, and none more so than Bokengee, a place I had visited when here in the autumn.
The Bokengee Valley is a beautiful one; it leads up between two pretty green hills covered with brushwood, evergreen oaks, and pines. The same solemn stillness seemed to reign amongst the temples as I had observed on a former occasion, broken only at intervals by some priest loudly rehearsing his prayers. At the principal entrance of this temple there are some large examples of the double-blossomed cherry-tree. One of these was one mass of bloom, and very handsome it appeared. The broad cleanly-swept walk below it was covered with thousands of its petals, which were falling like thin flakes of snow.
On the 7th of May I left Yokuhama, and crossed the bay to Kanagawa, where I took up my quarters in a large temple which had been rented and fitted up by Messrs. Dent and Co.; but as they had removed their establishment to Yokuhama, it was now unoccupied. Had I searched all Japan I could not have found a place better fitted for my pursuits. I had large rooms and verandahs in which I could prepare and store my collections of dried plants, seeds, insects, and shells, while the garden afforded ample space for the living plants which I was daily adding to my stores, and hoped one day to introduce into Europe. A Japanese porter, a gardener, Tunga, and myself, were the only occupants of this temple; and I must have had more confidence in the natives than perhaps was prudent, for my doors were never locked, neither by night nor by day. Itinerant florists and nurserymen were amongst my daily visitors, and rarely arrived without bringing me something which I gladly bought and transferred to my temple garden.
About the middle of May the now well-known Paulownia imperialis was in full bloom in the grounds of a temple adjoining that in which I was located. Here it forms a tree about thirty feet in height; the stem is generally bare, but branches out at the top, and each branch terminates in a spike of large, lilac, foxglove-like flowers. The varieties of pinks are numerous and beautiful in this part of Japan, and they also were in bloom about this time. They are remarkable for their large blossoms of various hues, some being of the most brilliant red and scarlet, while others are coloured much like our own. The finest poppies I ever saw were met with in gardens adjoining the Imperial highway. The Japanese do not smoke opium like their friends in China, but I believe the seeds of the poppy are largely used by them for medicinal purposes. The double-flowering kinds have blossoms of great size, of many different colours, and are highly ornamental.
But the plant remarkable above all others which were met with at this time, for its great beauty, was a new primrose.1 I shall never forget the morning on which a basketful of this charming plant was first brought to my door. Its flowers, of a rich magenta colour, were arranged in tiers, one above another, on a spike nearly two feet in height. It was beyond all question the most beautiful species of the genus to which it belongs, and will, I doubt not, henceforth take its place as the "Queen of the Primroses."
1 Primula japonica.