An uneventful run of two days, and the Yokohama Maru steams into the beautiful harbor of Nagasaki. The change from the filth of a Chinese city to Nagasaki, clean as if it had all just been newly scoured and varnished, is something delightful. One gets a favorable impression of the Japs right away; much more so, doubtless, by coming direct from China than in any other way. Two days of preparation and looking about leaves almost a pang of regret at having to depart so soon. The American consul here, Mr. B, is a very courteous gentleman; to him and Mr. M, an American gentleman, instructor in the Chinese navy, I am indebted for an exhibition of the geisha dance, and many other courtesies.
Having duly supplied myself with Japanese paper-money--ten, five, and one yen notes; fractional currency of fifty, twenty, and ten sen notes, besides copper sen for tea and fruit at road-side teahouses, on Tuesday morning, November 23d, I start on my journey of eight hundred miles through lovely Nippon to Yokohama.
Captain F and Mr. B, the American consul, have come to the hotel to see me off. A showery night has made the roads a trifle muddy. Through the long, neat-looking streets of Nagasaki, into a winding road, past crowded hill-side cemeteries, adorned with queer stunted trees and quaint designs in flowers, I ride, followed by wondering eyes and a running fire of curious comments from the Japs.
Nagasaki lies at the shoreward base of a range of hills, over a pass called the Himi-toge, which my road climbs immediately upon leaving the city. A good road is maintained over the pass, and an office established there to collect toll from travellers and people bringing produce into Nagasaki. The aged and polite toll-collector smiles and bows at me as I trundle innocently past his sentry-box-like office up the steep incline, hoping that I may take the hint and spare him the necessity of telling me the nature of his duty. My inexperience of Japanese tolls and roads, however, renders his politeness inoperative, and, after allowing me to get past, duty compels him to issue forth and explain. A wooden ticket containing Japanese characters is given me in exchange for a few tiny coins. This I fancy to be a passport for another toll-place higher up. Subsequently, however, I learn it to be a return ticket, the old toll-keeper very naturally thinking I would return, by and by, to Nagasaki.
Ponies and buffaloes, laden with baskets of rice, fodder, firewood, and various agricultural products, are encountered on the pass, in charge of Japanese rustics in broad bamboo-hats, red blankets, bare legs, and straw sandals, who lead their charges by long halter-ropes. Both horses and buffaloes are shod with shoes of the same unsubstantial material as the men. When the Japanese traveller sets out on a journey, he provides himself with a new pair of straw sandals; these last him for a tramp of from ten to twenty miles, according to the nature of the road. When worn out, his foot-gear may be readily renewed at any village for a mere song. The same may be said of his horse or buffalo, although several extra shoes are generally carried along in case of need.
The summit of the pass is distinguished by a very deep cutting through the ridge rock of the mountain, and a series of successive sharp turns back and forth along narrow-terraced gardens and fields bring the road down into the valley of a clear little stream, called the Himi-gawa. Smooth, hard roads follow along this purling rivulet, now and then crossing it on a stone or wooden bridge. A small estuary, reaching inland like a big bite out of a cake, is passed, and the pretty little village of Yagami reached for dinner. The eating-house, like nearly all Japanese eating-places, is neat and cleanly, the brown wood-work being fairly polished bright from floor to ceiling.
Sitting down on the edge of the raised floor, I am approached by the landlady, who kneels down and bows her forehead to the floor. Her politeness is very charming, and her smile would no doubt be more or less winsome were it not for the hideous blackening of the teeth. Blackened teeth is the distinguishing mark between maid and matron in the flowery kingdom of the Mikados. The teeth are stained black at marriage, and henceforth a smile that heretofore displayed rows of small white ivories, and perchance was fairly bewitching, becomes positively repulsive to the Western mind.
Fish and rice (sakana and meshi) are the most readily obtainable things to eat at a Japanese hotel, and often form the only bill of fare. Sake, or rice-beer, is usually included in the Jap's own meal, but the average European traveller at first prefers limiting his beverage to tea. The sake is served up in big-necked bottles of cheap porcelain holding about a pint. The bottle is set for a few minutes in boiling water to warm the sake, the Japs preferring to drink it warm. Sake is more like spirits than beer, an honest alcoholic production from rice that soon recommends itself to the European palate, though rather offensive at first.
Every tea-house along the road is made doubly attractive by prettily dressed attendants-smiling girls who come out and invite passing travellers to rest and buy tea and refreshments. Their solicitations are chiefly winsome smiles and polite bows and the cheerful greeting "O-ai-o" (the Japanese "how do you do"). A tiny teapot, no larger than those the little girls at home play at "keeping house" with, and shell-like cup to match, is brought on a lacquered tray and placed before one, with charming grace, if a halt is made at one of these tea-houses. Persimmons, sweets, cakes, and various tid-bits are temptingly arrayed on the sloping stand in front. The most trifling purchase is rewarded with an exhibition of good-nature and politeness worth many times the money.
About sunset I roll into the smooth, clean streets of Omura, a good-sized town, and seek the accommodation of a charming yadoya (inn) pointed out by a youth in semi-European clothes, who seems bubbling over with pleasure at the opportunity of rendering me this slight assistance. A room is assigned me upstairs, a mat spread for me to recline on, by a polite damsel, who touches her forehead to the floor both when she makes her appearance and her exit. Having got me comfortably settled down with the customary service of tea, sweets, little boxed brazier of live charcoal, spittoon, etc., the proprietor, his wife, and daughter, all come up and prostrate themselves after the most approved fashion.
After all the salaaming and deferentiality experienced in other Eastern countries, one still cannot help being impressed with the spectacle of several grotesque Japs bowing before one's seated figure like Hindoos prostrating themselves before some idol With any other people than the Japs this lowly attitude would seem offensively servile; but these inimitable people leave not the slightest room for thinking their actions obsequious. The Japs are a wonderful race; they seem to be the happiest people going, always smiling and good-natured, always polite and gentle, always bowing and scraping.
After a bountiful supper of several fishy preparations and rice, the landlord bobs his head to the floor, sucks his breath through the teeth after the peculiar manner of the Japs when desirous of being excessively polite, and extends his hands for my passport. This the yadoya proprietor is required to take and have examined at the police station, provided no policeman calls for it at the house.
The Japanese Government, in its efforts to improve the institutions of the country, has introduced systems of reform from various countries. Commissions were sent to the different Western countries to examine and report upon the methods of education, police, army, navy, postal matters, judiciary, etc. What was believed to be the best of the various systems was then selected as the model of Japan's new departure and adoption of Western civilization. Thus the police service is modelled from the French, the judiciary from the English, the schools after the American methods, etc. Having inaugurated these improvements, the Japs seem determined to follow their models with the same minute scrupulosity they exhibit in copying material things. There is probably as little use for elaborate police regulations in Japan as in any country under the sun; but having chosen the splendid police service of France to pattern by, they can now boast of having a service that lacks nothing in effectiveness.
A very good road, with an avenue of fine spreading conifers of some kind, leads out of Omura. To the left is the bay of Omura, closely skirted at times by the road. At one place is observed an inland temple, connected with the mainland by a causeway of rough rock. The little island is covered with dark pines and jagged rocks, amid which the Japs have perched their shrine and erected a temple. Both the Chinese and Japs seem fond of selecting the most romantic spots for their worship and the erection of religious edifices.
The day is warm, and a heavy shower during the night has made the road heavy in places, although much of it is clean gravel that is not injured by the rain. Over hill and down dale the ku-ruma road leads to Ureshino, a place celebrated for its mineral springs and bath. On the way one passes through charming little ravines, where tiny cataracts come tumbling down the sides of moss-grown precipices, a country of pretty thatched cottages, temples, groves, and purling rivulets.
On the streams are numerous rice-hulling machines, operated by the ingenious manipulation of the water. In a little hut is a mortar containing the rice. Attached to a pivot is a long beam having a pestle at one end and a trough at the other. The pestle is made to fall upon the rice in the mortar by the filling and automatic emptying of the trough outside. The trough, filling with water, drops down and empties of its own weight; this causes the opposite end to fall suddenly. This operation repeats itself about every two seconds through the day.
The gravelly hills about Ureshino are devoted to the cultivation of tea; the green tea-gardens, with the undulating, even rows of thick shrubs, looking very beautiful where they slope to the foot of the bare rocky cliffs. Ureshino and the baths are some little distance off the main road to Shimonoseki; so, not caring particularly to go there, I continue on to the village of Takio, where rainy weather compels a halt of several hours. Everything is so delightfully superior, as compared with China, that the Japanese village yadoya seems a veritable paradise during these first days of my acquaintance with them. Life at a Chinese village hittim for a week would well-nigh unseat the average Anglo-Saxon's reason, whereas he might spend the same time very pleasantly in a Japanese country inn. The region immediately around Takio is not only naturally lovely, but is embellished by little artificial lakes, islands, grottoes, and various landscape novelties such as the Japs alone excel in.
An eight-wire telegraph line threads the road from Takio to Ushidzu, passing through numerous villages that almost form a continuous street from one town to the other. As one notices such improvements, and sees the police and telegraph officials in trim European uniforms seated in their neat offices, an American clock invariably on the wall within, and, moreover, notes the uniform friendliness of the people, it is difficult to imagine that thirty years ago one would have been in more danger travelling through here than through China. Passing through the main streets of Ushidzu in search of the best yadoya, I am accosted by a middle-aged woman with, "Hello! you wanchee room? wanchee chow-chow." Her mother keeps a yadoya, she tells me, and leads the way thither, chatting gayly in pidgeon English, all the way. She seems very pleased at the opportunity to exercise her little stock of broken English, and tells me she learned it at Shanghai, where she once resided for a couple of years in an English family. Her name, she says, is O-hanna, but her English friends used to call her Hannah, without the prefix. Understanding from experience what I would be most likely to appreciate for supper, she rustles around and prepares a nice fish, plenty of Ureshino tea, sugar, sweet-cakes, and sliced pomolo; this, together with rice, is the extent of Ushidzu's present gastronomic limits.
The following morning opens with a white frost, the road is level and good, and the yadoya people see that I am provided with a substantial breakfast in good season. My boots, I find, have been cleaned even. They were cleaned with a rag, O-hanna apologizing for the absence of shoe-brushes and blacking in pidgeon English: "Brush no have got."
In striking contrast to China, here are gangs of "cantonniers" taking care of the road; men in regular blue uniforms with big white "bull's-eyes," and characters like our Celestial friends the yameni-runners. Troops of school-children are passed on the road going to school with books and tally-boards under their arm. They sometimes range themselves in rows alongside the road, and, as I wheel past, bob their heads simultaneously down to the level of their knees and greet me with a polite "O-ai-o."
The country hereabout is rich and populous, and the people seemingly well-to-do. The tea-houses, farm-houses, and even the little ricks of rice seem built with an eye to artistic effect. One sees here the gradual encroachment of Western mechanical improvements. The first two-handled plough I have seen since leaving Europe is encountered this morning; but alongside it are men using the clumsy Japanese digging-tool of their ancestors, and both men and women stripped to the waist, hulling rice by pounding it in mortars with long-headed pestles. It is merely a question of a few years, however, until the intelligent Japs will discard all their old clumsy methods and introduce the latest agricultural improvements of the West into their country. Passing through a mile or more of Saga's smooth and continuously ridable streets, past big school-houses where hundreds of children are reciting aloud in chorus, past the big bronze Buddha for which Saga is locally famous, the road continues through a somewhat undulating country, ridable, generally speaking, the whole way. Long cedar or cryptomerian avenues sometimes characterize the way. Strings of peasants are encountered, leading pack-ponies and bullocks. The former seem to be vicious little wretches, rather masters, on the whole, than servants of their leaders.
The Japanese horse objects to a tight girth, objects to being overloaded, and to various other indignities that his relations of other countries meekly endure. To suit his fastidious requirements he is allowed to meander carelessly along at the end of a twenty-foot string, and he is decorated all over with gay and fanciful trappings. A very peculiar trait of his character is that of showing fight at anything he doesn't like the looks of, instead of scaring at it after the orthodox method of horse-flesh in other countries. This peculiarity sometimes makes it extremely interesting for myself. Their usual manner of taking exception to me and the bicycle is to rear up on the hind feet and squeal and paw the air, at the same time evincing a disposition to come on and chew me up. This necessitates continual wariness on my part when passing a company of peasants, for the men never seem to think it worth while to restrain their horses until the actions of the latter render it absolutely necessary.
Jinrikishas now become quite frequent, pulled by sturdy-limbed men, who, naked almost as the day they were born, trot along between the shafts of their two-wheeled vehicles at the rate of six miles an hour. Men also are met pulling heavy hand-carts, loaded with tiles, from country factories to the city. Most of the heaviest labor seems to be performed by human beings, though not to the same extent as in China.
In every town and village one is struck with the various imitations of European goods. Ludicrous mistakes are everywhere met with, where this serio-comical people have attempted to imitate name, trade-mark, and everything complete. In one portion of the eating-house where lunch is obtained to-day are a number of umbrella-makers manufacturing gingham umbrellas; on every umbrella is stamped the firm-name "John Douglas, Manchester." Cigarettes, nicely made and equal in every respect to those of other countries, are boldly labelled "cigars:" thus do these curious imitators make mistakes. Had Shakespeare seen the Japs one could better understand his "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players;" for most other nations life is a serious enough problem, the Japs alone seem to be merely "playing at making a livelihood." They always impress me as happy-go-lucky harlequins, to whom this whole business of coming into the world and getting a living for a few years is nothing more nor less than a huge joke.
The happiest state of affairs seems to exist among all classes and conditions of people in Japan. One passes school-houses and sees the classes out on the well-kept grounds, going through various exercises, such as one would never expect to see in the East. To-day I pause a while before the public-school in Nakabairu, watching the interesting exercises going on. Under the supervision of teachers in black frock-coats and Derby hats, a class of girls are ranged in two rows, throwing and catching pillows, altogether back and forth at the word of command. Classes of boys are manipulating wooden dumb-bells and exercising their muscles by various systematic exercises. The youngsters are enjoying it hugely, and the whole affair looks so thoroughly suggestive of the best elements of Occidental school-life that it is difficult to believe the evidence of one's own eyes. I suspect the Japanese children are about the only children in the wide, wide world who really enjoy studying their lessons and going to school. One of the teachers comes to the gate and greets me with a polite bow. I address him in English, but he doesn't know a word.
The wooden houses of Japan seem frail and temporary, but they look new and bright mostly in the country. The government buildings, police-offices, post-offices, schools, etc., all look new and bright and artistic, as though but lately finished. The roads, too, are sometimes laid out straight and trim, suggestive of an attempt to imitate the roads of France; then, again, one traverses for miles the counterpart of the green lanes of Merrie England--narrow, winding, and romantic. The Japanese roads are mainly about ten or twelve feet wide, giving ample room for two jinrikishas to pass, these being the only wheeled vehicles on the roads. Rustic bridges frequently span lovely little babbling brooks, and waterfalls abound this afternoon as I approach, at early eve, Futshishi. Rain necessitates a lay-over of a day at Futshishi, but there is nothing unendurable about it; the proprietor of the house is a blind man, who plays the samosan, and makes the girls sing and dance the geisha for my edification. Beef and chicken are both forthcoming at Futshishi, and the fish, as in almost all Japanese towns, are very excellent.
The weather opens clear and frosty after the rain, and the road to Fukuoko is most excellent wheeling; the country continues charming, and every day the people seem to get more and more polite and agreeable. A novel sight of the morning's ride is a big gang of convicts working the roads. They are fastened together with light chains, wear neat brown uniforms, and seem to regard the unconvicted world of humans outside their own company with an expression of apology. To look in their serio-comic faces it is difficult to imagine them capable of doing anything wrong, except in fun: they look, in fact, as if their being chained together and closely attended by guards was of itself anything but a serious affair.
Cavalry officers, small, smart-looking, and soldierly, in yellow-braided uniforms, are seen in Fukuoko, looking as un-Asiatic in make-up as the schools, policemen, and telegraph-operators. A collision with a jinrikisha that treats me to a header, and another with a diminutive Jap, that bowls him over like a ninepin, and a third with a bobtailed cat, that damages nothing but pussy's dignity, enter into my reminiscences of Fukuoko. The numbers of jinrikishas, and the peculiar habits of the people, necessitate lynx-eyed vigilance to prevent collisions every hour of the day. The average Jap leaves the door of a house backward, and bows and scrapes his way clear out into the middle of the street, in bidding adieu to the friends he has been calling upon, or even the shopkeeper he has been patronizing. Scarcely a village is passed through but some person waltzes backward out of a door and right in front of the bicycle.
A curious sight one frequently sees along the road is an acre or two of ground covered with paper parasols, set out in the sun to dry after being pasted, glued, and painted ready for market. Umbrellas and paper lanterns are as much a part of the Japanese traveller's outfit as his clothes. These latter, nowadays, are sometimes a very grotesque mixture of native and European costume. The craze for foreign innovations pervades all ranks of society, and every village dandy aspires to some article of European clothing. The result is that one frequently encounters men on the road wearing a Derby hat, a red blanket, tight-fitting white drawers, and straw sandals. The villager who sports a European hat or coat comes around to my yadoya, wearing an amusing expression of self-satisfaction, as though filled with an inward consciousness of inv approval of the same. Whereas, every European traveller deprecates the change from their native costume to our own.
Following for some distance along the bank of a large canal I reach the village of Hakama for the night. The yadoya here is simply spotless from top to bottom; however the Japanese hotel-keeper manages to transact business and preserve such immaculate apartments is more of a puzzle every day. The regulation custom at a yadoya is for the newly arrived guest to take a scalding hot bath, and then squat beside a little brazier of coals, and smoke and chat till supper-time. The Japanese are more addicted to hot-water bathing than the people of any other country. They souse themselves in water that has been heated to 140 deg. Fahr., a temperature that is quite unbearable to the "Ingurisu-zin" or "Amerika-zin" until he becomes gradually hardened and accustomed to it. Both men and women bathe regularly in hot water every evening. The Japs have not yet imbibed any great quantity of mauvaise honte from their association with Europeans, so the sexes frequent the bath-tub indiscriminately, taking no more notice of one another than if they were all little children. "Venus disporting in the waves"--of a bath-tub--is a regular feature of life at a Japanese inn. Nor can they quite understand why the European tourist should object to the proprietor, his wife and children, chambermaids, tea-girls, guests and visitors crowding around to see him undress and waltz into the tub. Bless their innocent Japanese souls! why should he object. They are only attracted out of curiosity to see the whiteness of his skin, to note his peculiar manner of undressing, and to satisfy a general inquisitiveness concerning his corporeal possibilities. They have no squeamishness whatever about his watching their own natatorial duties; why, then, should he shrink within himself and wave them off?
The regular hotel meals consist of rice, fish in various forms, little slices of crisp, raw turnip, pickles, and a catsup-like sauce. Meat is rarely forthcoming, unless specially ordered, when, of course, extra charges are made; sake also has to be purchased separately. After supper one is supplied with a teapot of tea and a brazier of coals.
Passing the following night at Hakama, I pull out next morning for Shimonoseki. Traversing for some miles a hilly country, covered with pine-forest, my road brings me into Ashiyah, situated on a small estuary. Here, at Ashiyah, I indulge in nay first simon-pure Japanese shave, patronizing the village barber while dodging a passing shower. The Japanese tonsorial artist shaves without the aid of soap, merely wetting the face by dipping his fingers in a bowl of warm water. During the operation of shaving he hones the razor frequently on an oil-stone. He shaves the entire face and neck, not omitting even the lobes of the ear, the forehead, and nose. If the European traveller didn't keep his senses about him, while in the barber-chair of a Japanese village, he would find himself with every particle of fuzz scraped off his face and neck, save, of course, his regular whiskers or mustache, and with eye-brows considerably curtailed.
From Ashiyah my road follows up alongside a small tidal canal to Hakamatsu, traversing a lowland country, devoted entirely to the cultivation of rice. Scores of coal-barges are floating along the canal, propelled solely by the flowing of the tide. I can imagine them floating along until the tide changes, then tying up and waiting patiently until it ebbs and flows again; from long experience they, no doubt, have come to calculate upon one, two, or three tides, as the case may be, floating their barges up to certain landings or villages.
The streets of Hakamatsu present a lively and picturesque scene, swarming with country people in the gayest of costumes; the stalls are fairly groaning beneath big piles of tempting eatables, toys, clothing, lanterns, tissue-paper flowers, and every imaginable Japanese thing. Street-men are attracting small crowds about them by displaying curiosities. One old fellow I pause awhile to look at is selling tiny rolls of colored paper which, when cast into a bowl of water, unfold into flowers, boats, houses, birds, or animals. In explanation of the holiday-making, a young man in a custom-house uniform, who knows a few words of English, explains "Japan God "-it is some religious festival these smiling, chatting, bowing, and comical-looking crowds are keeping with such evident relish.
Prom Hakamatsu to Kokura the country is hilly and broken; from Kokura one can look across the narrow strait and see Shimonoseki, on the mainland of Japan. Thus far we have been traversing the island of Kiu-shiu, separated from the main island by a strait but a few hundred yards wide at Shimonoseki. From Kokura the jinrikisha road leads a couple of ri farther to Dairi; thence footpaths traverse hills and wax-tree groves for another two miles (a ri is something over two English miles) to the village of Moji. Here I obtain passage on a little ferry-boat across to Shimonoseki, arriving there about two o'clock in the afternoon.
A twenty-four hours' halt is made at Shimonoseki in deference to rainy weather. The landlady of the yadoya understands enough about European cookery to prepare me a very decent beefsteak and a pot of coffee. Shimonoseki is full of European goods, and clever imitations of the same; a stroll of an hour through the streets reveals the extent of the Japs' appreciation of foreign things. Every other shop, almost, seems devoted to the goods that come from other countries, or their counterfeits. Not content with merely copying an imported article, the Japanese artisan generally endeavors to make some improvement on the original. For instance, after making an exact imitation of a petroleum-lamp, the Jap workman constructs a neat little lacquer cabinet to set it in when not in use. The coffee-pot in which the coffee served at my yadoya is prepared is an ingenious contrivance with three chambers, evidently a reproduction of Yankee ingenuity.
A big Shinto temple occupies the crest of a little hill near by, and flights of stone steps lead up to the entrance. At the foot of the steps, and repeated at several stages up the slope, are the peculiar torii, or "bird-perches," that form the distinctive mark of a Shinto temple. Numerous shrines occupy the court-yard of the temple; the shrines are built of wood mostly, and contain representations of the various gods to whose particular worship they are dedicated. Before each shrine is a barred receptacle for coins. The Japanese devotee poses for a minute before the shrine, bowing his head and smiting together the palms of his hands; he then tosses a diminutive coin or two into the barred treasury, and passes on round to the next shrine he wishes to pay his respects to. In the main building are numerous pictures, bows, arrows, swords, and various articles, evidently votive offerings. The shrine of the deity that presides over the destiny of fishermen is distinguished by a huge silver-paper fish and numerous three-pronged fish-spears. Among other queer objects whose meaning defies the penetration of the traveller unversed in Japanese mythology is a monstrous human face, with a nose at least three feet long, and altogether out of proportion.
Strolling about to while away a rainy forenoon I pass big school-houses full of children reciting aloud. Their wooden clogs and paper umbrellas are stowed away in racks, provided for the purpose, at the door. The cheerfulness with which they shout out their exercises proves plainly enough that they are only keeping "make-believe" school. Female vegetable and fruit venders, neat and comely as Normandy dairy-maids, are walking about chatting and smiling and bowing, "playing at selling vegetables." While I pause a moment to inspect the stock of a curio-dealer, the proprietor, seated over a brazier of coals, smoking, bows politely and points, with a chuckle of amusement, at the fierce-looking effigy of a daimio in armor. There is not the slightest hint of a mercenary thought about his actions; plainly enough, he hasn't the remotest wish to sell me anything--he merely wants to call my attention to the grotesqueness of this particular figure. He is only playing curio-dealer; he doesn't try to sell anything, but would do so out of the abundance of his good-nature if requested to, no doubt. A pair of little old-fashioned fire-engines repose carelessly against the side of a municipal building. They have grown tired of playing at extinguishing fires and have thrown aside their toys. I wander to the water-front and try to locate my hotel from that point of observation. Watermen are lounging about in wistaria waterproof coats. They want me to ride to my destination in one of their boats, very evidently, from their manner, only for the fun of the thing. Everybody is smiling and urbane, nobody looks serious; no careworn faces are seen, no pinched poverty. Wonderful people! they come nearer solving the problem of living happily than any other nation. Even the professional mendicants seem to be amused at their own poverty, as if life to them was a mere humorous experiment, scarcely deserving of a serious thought.
The weather clears up at noon, and in the face of a strong northern breeze I bid farewell to Shimonoseki.
The road follows for some miles along the shore, a smooth, level road that winds about the bases of the hills that here slope down to toy and dally with the restless surf of the famous Inland Sea. Following the shore in a general sense, the road now and then leads inland for a mile or two, for the purpose of linking together the numerous towns and villages that dot the little alluvial valleys between the hills. Passing through one large village, my attention is attracted by the sign "English Books," over a book-shop. Desirous of purchasing some kind of a guide for the road to Kobe, I enter the establishment, expecting at least to find some one capable of understanding English. The young man in charge knows never a word of English, and his stock of "English books" consists of primers, spelling-books, etc., for the use of school-children.
The architecture of the villages above Shimonoseki is strikingly artistic. The quaint gabled houses are painted a snowy white, and are roofed with brown glazed tiles of curious pattern, also rimmed with white. About the houses are hedges grotesquely clipped and trained in imitation of storks, animals, or fishes, miniature orange and persimmon trees, pretty flower-gardens and little landscape vanities peculiar to the Japanese. Circling around through little valleys, over small promontories and along smooth, gravelly stretches of sea-shore road, for thirty miles, brings me to anchor for the night in a good-sized village.
Among my visitors for the evening is a young gentleman arrayed in shiny top-boots, tight-fitting corduroy trousers, and jockey cap. In his general make-up he is the "horsiest" individual I have seen for many a day. One could readily imagine him to be a professional jockey. The probability is, however, that he has never mounted a horse in his life. In all likelihood he has become infatuated with this style of Western clothes from studying a copy of the London Graphic, has gone to great trouble and expense to procure the garments from Yokohama, and now blossoms forth upon the dazed provincials of his native town in a make-up that stamps him as the swellest of the swell He affects great interest in the bicycle--much more so than the average Jap--from which I infer that he has actually imbibed certain notions of Western sport, and is desirous of posing before his uninitiated and, consequently, unappreciative, countrymen, as an exponent of athletics. Altogether the horsey young gentleman is the most startling representative of "New Japan" I have yet encountered.
A cold drizzle ushers in the commencement of my next day's journey. One is loath to exchange the neat yadoya, with everything within so spotless and so pleasant, the tiny garden, not over ten yards square, but containing a miniature lake, grottos, quaint stone lanterns, bronze storks, flowers, and stunted trees, for the road. Disagreeable weather has followed me, however, from Nagasaki like an avenging Fate, bent on preventing the consummation of my tour from being too agreeable. Even with rain and mud and consequent delays my first few days in Japan have seemed a very paradise after my Chinese experiences; what, then, would have been my impressions of country and people amid sunshine and favorable conditions of weather and road, when the novelty of it all first burst upon my Chinese-disgusted senses?
The country round about is mountainous, snow lying upon the summits of a few of the higher peaks. The road, though hilly at times, manages to twist and wind its way along from one little valley to another without any very long hills. Peasants from the mountains are met with, leading ponies loaded with firewood and rice. Their old Japanese aboriginal costumes of wistaria raincoats, broad bamboo-hats, and rude straw-sandals make a conspicuous contrast to their countrymen of "New Japan," in Derby hats or jockey suits. Notwithstanding the rapid Europeanizing of the city-bred Japs, the government's progressive policy, the blue-coated gendarmerie, and the general revolutionizing of the country at large, many a day will come and go ere these mountaineers forsake the ways and methods and grotesque costumes of their ancestors. For decades Japan will present an interesting study of mountaineer conservatism and ultra-liberal city life. One party will be wearing foreign clothes, aping foreign manners, adopting foreign ways of doing everything; the other will be clinging tenaciously to the wistaria garments, bamboo sieve-hats, straw-sandals, and the traditions of "Old Japan."
Most farm-houses are now thatched with straw; one need hardly add that they are prettily and neatly thatched, and that they are embellished by various unique contrivances. Some of them, I notice, are surrounded by a broad, thick hedge of dark-green shrubbery. The hedge is trimmed so that the upper edge appears to be a continuation of the brown thatch, which merely changes its color and slopes at the same steep gradient to the ground. This device produces a very charming effect, particularly when a few neatly trimmed young pines soar above the hedge like green sentinels about the dwelling. One inimitable piece of "botanical architecture" observed to-day is a thick shrub trimmed into an imitation of a mountain, with trees growing on the slopes, and a temple standing in a grove. Before many of the houses one sees curious tree-roots or rocks, that have been brought many a mile down from the mountains, and preserved on account of some fanciful resemblance to bird, reptile, or animal. Artificial lakes, islands, waterfalls, bridges, temples, and groves abound; and at occasional intervals a large figure of the Buddha squats serenely on a pedestal, smiling in happy contemplation of the peace, happiness, prosperity, and beauty of everything and everybody around. Happy people! happy country. Are the Japs acting wisely or are they acting foolishly in permitting European notions of life to creep in and revolutionize it all. Who can tell. Time alone will prove. They will get richer, more powerful, and more enterprising, because of the necessity of waking themselves up to keep abreast of the times; but wealth and power, and the buzz and rattle of machinery and commerce do not always mean happiness.
Text, code and images © Ray Schumacher 2005