The Parents' Review
A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture
"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Seeds of Stories from Other Countries
Volume 3, 1892/93, pgs. 292-
[From the book "Clear Round!" by Elizabeth Anna Gordon, 1851-1925. Gordon was fascinated by the link between Christianity and Buddhism, and spent much of her life in Japan.]
IV. "THE MORNING LAND."
In my last letters you read about the Sealed Land which has been so marvellously opened up during the past quarter of a century to the English race. Across the tempestuous Pacific Ocean (for the title Pacific is an utter misnomer) still more wonderful events, occurring during the same period, have revealed to the world at large not only a sealed land, but also a Sealed People.
Niphon, the Morning Land, or the Empire of the Sunrise; its monarch, Mikado, the Child of Heaven, the Son of the Sun Goddess; the sixteen-petalled Chrysanthemum, or sun-flower, his badge; his dynasty the oldest upon earth, reigning in unbroken line for over two thousand five hundred years; and the people----? The quaintest, the smallest, the most cultured, amiable, gentle, polite, refined, clean, good-tempered, on the face of the earth.
Chinese civilisation first came into Japan in B.C. 660, through the Japanese warrior-empress, Jingo, who made a peaceful conquest of Korea, "the Land of Morning Calm." But the knowledge of the existence of Japan first reached European ears in A.D. 1295, when Marco Polo, the Venetian traveler, standing on the shores of the Yellow Sea, was pointed eastwards and told that at the Sun-rising there was a great island-kingdom named Zipangu, peopled by a highly-civilised and wealthy race, who had bravely rolled back the tide of Tartar invasion, when the Mongol Emperor, Kublai Khan (the great conqueror), came with his army of 150,000 Tartars and Chinese to crush out little Japan, and was beaten back from her shores in 1259. The story is similar to our own of the Spanish Armada. Much prayer was offered all over the island, and the Japanese fought desperately, but an awful typhoon arose and destroyed the vast fleet of junks, and the Japanese were filled with gratitude to the Great God who had interposed so signally on their behalf. (You recollect our Queen Elizabeth had a medal struck with the inscription "He blew with His winds, and they were scattered.")
It was in order to discover Zipangu that Columbus, and the other explorers of whom you have lately heard, yearned to find the route across the Western Seas; for this same Marco Polo wrote such a wonderfully interesting and minutely accurate account of his travels that it became of inestimable value in stimulating others to geographical research, and led the Portuguese to discover the route to India round by the Cape of Good Hope, and kindled the passion for discovery in the breast of Christopher Columbus. His description of the fur-traders in the Land of Darkness fired Prince Rupert with the ideas which resulted in the formation of the Hudson's Bay Company.
Pinto, a Portuguese, first heard of Zipangu when in China, and actually sailed to it in the year 1542, and was the means of introducing Christianity (the story of which will take a letter to itself). It is said that when Pinto sailed up to the coast in a junk, the Japanese traced in large Chinese characters on the sand the question, "Wherefore dost thou come?" and received the reply from a Chinese on board, "To trade with you."
Pinto published such marvellous accounts that his name, "Mendez", was considered by those at home as synonymous for "Mendaz," a liar!
In 1624, under the usurping Shoguns (or Mayors of the Palace), all foreigners (except the Dutch and Chinese) were banished from Japan, and an edict was promulgated ordering the destruction of every ship larger than a junk, to prevent the Nipponese sailing in the open seas and coming in contact with other nations; these, they called the "foreign barbarians" (as the ancient Greeks designated all foreigners, vide the opening words of Herodotus).
For 250 years the country remained sealed, but at length, in the providence of God, the Sperm-whale was the means of opening up Japan.
* * * * * *
In 1853 warships appeared in Yedo Bay, and Commodore [Matthew] Perry delivered a letter from the President of the United States demanding that the country be thrown open to commerce, and announced that he would come again next year for the reply. A curiously prophetic ballad had been sung up and down the country for a few years previously, of which the following verses are quoted:
"Through a black night of cloud and rain,
Down in her hold there labour men
With cheeks half hid in shaggy beards,
Frightened by the Commodore's "black ships," Japan at last opened her doors and permitted foreigners to settle at certain ports (such as Yokohama), although, for years after, their condition was one of peril.
Captain Perry returned, bringing with him many valuable gifts, including a telegraph, a train, for which was constructed a miniature circular railroad (on which the train rushed round at the rate of twenty miles an hour, to the intense delight of the Japanese), and sewing-machine.
Nineteen years later, in 1862, the second Japanese Embassy to Europe left in an English man-of-war, its object being to induce the Powers to postpone the opening of other ports. In 1864 this Embassy returned, delighted with all they had seen, and one of them exclaimed: "Not the foreigners, but we are the barbarians." This displeased the authorities, and they were dismissed from their office. One Daimio urged that "as there were five great powerful continents, all the Japanese together could not drive out the foreigners."
Civil war broke out, the Shogunate was overthrown, and Mikado, the true sovereign, restored to the rights of his ancestral throne in 1868. In 1871 he showed himself to his subjects having hitherto always been invisible, and considered as a deity. Japanese time dates from his accession, "Meiji," the Era of Enlightened Rule. In the same year, feudalism was abolished. In 1876 all the edicts against Christianity were revoked, and Sunday adopted as the official holiday; schools were opened, railways, telegraphs, electric lighting introduced; the postal service, the army and navy re-organised, vaccination made compulsory, and the coast encircled by lighthouses; embassies and consulates established in Europe and America; a Constitution was given to the country, an Imperial Diet opened in 1890 (answering to our Houses of Parliament). Fourteen of its 300 members are Christians, and out of the three names submitted to the Emperor as Speaker of the House of Commons, he selected the one at the head of the list, who is a Presbyterian. [Written prior to the Dissolution, December 29, 1891.]
To this strange land we drew near, full of expectation, one lovely Sunday morning; the sun seemed long in rising as we watched the golden clouds around his birthplace, and on our right arose the white cliffs of Nippon, crowned with green forests or emerald rice-fields, which reminded us strangely of Old England's southern coasts--the "England of the Pacific," we heard later, it is called. Between us and the land were quaint boats--"junks" or "sampans"--filled with yellow-tinted fishermen, naked but for the blue short tunic and kerchief round their brows, who stood to scull their boats.
Further on the horizon was covered by a lovely cloud of snow-white wings--
"Pointed up to heaven, fanning the air with eternal pinions" (Dante),
which proved to be the square sails of the junks. F. thought that Isaiah's words, "Ho! To the land shadowing with wings," might apply to this Land of the Sunrise. As we passed, they kept on the other side of the Japan Current, [The Gulf Stream of the Pacific.] which showed very distinctly, flowing like a dark river between us. Arrived off Yokohama, we landed in a steam-launch. As we gazed our farewells upon the gallant ship, and marked the damage wrought on her by the cruel storms, an American lady remarked "Why, she's quite a boat!" and proceeded to tell us how little she had ever expected to see dry land again, and that when things were at the worst she "just thought of her hired servant John, working quietly around at home, and wished that she were John!" The Custom House was at the end of the wharf, and during the examination of baggage we had abundant time to look about us. All was so strange, so unlike anything we had ever imagined. First, the men sitting crouched upon their heels; next, the women and children, the exact facsimiles of the pictures on the fans and screens and porcelain, each with a living burden on her back in the form of a placid, contented, moon-faced, almond-eyed baby; then the coolies, trundling immense American trunks as easily as bandboxes, piling them upon light trollies to the number of twelve and fourteen, and finally drawing them off single-handed. As each passenger was "through," he or she mounted into the queerest carriages imaginable. Picture something between an enlarged perambulator, a diminutive hansom, and an etherealised Bath chair, and you have a "djin-rishi-cha," or "man-power carriage," the veritable "pull-man-car," to which a bare-legged brown man harnesses himself, by getting in between the shafts, and rushes off like the wind, whisking his fare round corners, through crowds without collisions, and apparently quite indifferent to the weight-- whether it be a young lady or a stout old gentleman; the only apparent difference is that Europeans have a "rickshaw' apiece, and the natives ride two and even three at a time, their vegetarian diet being supposed to make them lighter than the carnivorous occidentals! One fairly screams with laughter to see them racing along in long lines, for in Japan, "rickshaws," people, cattle, and horses, all go in Indian file, and are rarely seen abreast. [Djin-rishi-cha were invented by an American sailor, who was on Commodore Perry's ship, and introduced at the Paris Exhibition, 1867.]
Our turn came to be whisked off with our baggage to Yokohama station. It is a fine building, and we were struck by two things--first, the book-stall, with its supply of handkerchiefs, towels and hats for travellers' needs; and next the waiting-room table, which had no less than twenty files of Japanese and English newspapers lying on it--a great advance on European stations. As we had to wait a considerable time for a train, we were interested in looking these over, and reading about the great earthquake [1891 Mino-Owari earthquake, also called the Nobi earthquake], which had recently occurred in the south of the empire. You will like to read the description from a Japanese paper under the date October 30:
"The most mournful and horrible informations reached us with reference to the earthquakes . . . The Naniwa Spinning Mills were nearly broken into pieces; fourteen lives being pressed to death, and twenty-five wounded . . . In Ogald fifty houses were brought down . . . and in Nagoya City 9495 houses were crushed down, 2560 persons hurt, and 1018 souls departed, and in Gifu and Ogaki almost all houses were shook down, then took fire, and numberless people perished, thousands being left homeless, calling for help!" "This earthquake is the heaviest since 1834; 10,000 lives were lost, and the accounts of the intense sufferings of the poor people and their shattered homes are very terrible. The shocks continued for weeks; between October 28 and November 4 there were 610 strong shocks of earthquake; and up to November 23, 831. Fearful sounds were heard in the sea, and the roaring boom of cannon or prolonged thunder from underground, unaccompanied by shaking. The hot springs became unbearably hot. Hills were depressed and valleys were cast up, and springs threw out boiling mud; huge fissures opened in the earth and people were swallowed up alive. The fires broke out, and pursued them, and in their anguish they threw their dead into the flames. Notices were fixed to the houses stating how many had been crushed to death inside. Three hundred were at a Temple in the early morning for a harvest thanksgiving service; the roof fell in and not one escaped. Four thousand feet subsided on the side of the great mountain Fuji-yama. A new lake was formed, 3000 feet, and strange to say, a Tai (a sea-fish) was caught in its fresh waters. This earthquake is said to have originated in the Pacific Ocean."
Japan is a new country, and has not yet cooled down. All its hills and mountains are volcanic formations; no remains are found of the Glacial or ice-age.
We also read how the preceeding Empress had experienced even worse weather than ourselves, having to put in at Hakodate (a northern port in Japan) to coal, as instead of 135 tons a day, she had consumed 200 tons.
The dusk prevented our seeing much of the landscape between Yokohama and Tokyo; the train ran between rice-fields, and the straw looked so odd tied in sheaves and strung along fences, on hedge-tops, and up the trunks of trees. The names of the stations are in Japanese and English. At Tokyo, the clatter of the clogs, as the innumerable passengers alighted and trod along the platforms, seemed the most curious, half-musical noise we had ever heard. Every one wore spotless white socks or tabi (foot mittens) coming above the ankle, digitated like pigeons' feet; four toes go into one part of the stocking, the great toe, or "foot thumb," has a place to itself. Between these a string passes to hold in place the wooden clog, geta, which is supported on two rests, of varying size, and helps to add from one to three inches to the stature of the diminutive people whom the Chinese call the "dwarf nation," and some Westerns have aptly christened "the diamond edition of humanity," whose average height is five feet.
Tokyo covers an area as large as London. Its streets were lighted with coloured Chinese lanterns and the electric light; tram-cars, with tooty-tooty whistles, and ominbuses surprised us in the midst of the "other-world" surroundings; one half the population was engaged in carrying the other half; either in "rickshas" or on their backs. "Great fleas have lesser fleas upon their back, and so ad infinitum." It is ludicrous to see these Celestials stalking about in sky-blue costumes, with pigtails down to their heels, and an air of such vast superiority to the little Japs, just like Gulliver among the Lilliputs. It is said that one never laughs so much in one's life as in Japan, and I quite endorse it.
Proofread by LNL, Sept. 2023; The "errata" listed above were noted in the two articles referenced.
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