Read CHAPTER X of In Eastern Seas The Commission of H.M.S. 'Iron Duke‚' flag-ship in China‚ 1878-83 , free online book, by J. J. Smith, on

“I looked upon those hills and plains,
And seemed as if let loose from chains,
To live at liberty.”

The arrival of the “Vigilant” from Shanghai, with the admiral on board, brought our stay at charming Nagasaki to a close. During the absence of our band with the “Vigilant,” one of its members, Henry Harper, a feeble old man, and far advanced in consumption, died at Shanghai.

June 11th. Left Nagasaki en route for the eastward, via the Inland Seas. Our way to Simoneski lay through numerous islands of so beautiful an appearance that a writer has compared them to some of the fairest spots in Devon. But this, though it says much, is but a poor tribute to such enchanting loveliness.

At daylight the following morning we made the narrow channel at Simoneski, the western entrance to the seas; and as there is always a strong rush of water through the passage towards the ocean, we had to steam hard against a considerable current. The town, of which I spoke in my last chapter, has a very straggling and neat cleanly appearance. There are no forts or other defences to indicate that not so long ago this town offered defiance and a short resistance to a European squadron.

The Inland Sea has four chief divisions, which now commences to open out before us, and is reckoned to possess some of the finest scenery in the world. I had often wished to see it for myself; but I must confess I was unprepared, even with an imagination not liable to surprise, at a picture of nature’s own producing, for such beauty and grandeur. For hundreds of miles, day after day, we were borne past a moving diorama of scenery unrivalled by anything here below. On a smooth blue sea, and under a cloudless sky, onward we sped, passing, one after another, the most delightful islets the eye ever dwelt on, each appearing to us a perfect paradise in itself. Further on, indicated by a mere purple haze, appeared others, and yet others, in almost endless perspective. I should say the islands in this sea may be numbered by thousands.

Not many years since, strangers were debarred from using this passage. I fancy I can imagine the impressions the first Europeans must have had of this fairy land, of such a climate, such a soil, and such delightful glades and woodlands!

On each of the larger islands we noticed snug temples, like miniature Swiss chalets, embowered in woods their peculiar architecture standing out in relief from a tangled mass of vegetation.

The channels where there are so many islands as here are necessarily intricate and dangerous; and as it would be to court danger to continue our course after sundown, there are several well-marked anchorages where it is customary to bring up at night. The first of these was a sheltered bay with twin villages at its head, which I fancifully designated Kingsand and Cawsand the promontory forming one arm of the bay, looking not unlike Penlee point greatly adding to the conceit.

June 14th. At noon we reached Kobe, or Hiogo, and let go our anchor far out in what appears to be an open roadstead. This town is one of the most recent of the treaty ports in fact it and Osaca opposite, are the last thrown open to trade; hence we shall probably find Kobe more native and less Europeanized than are the other towns we shall visit.

The native town is very extensive, reaching far back to the basis of the hills, and well away to the left of the anchorage. To the right a stretch of low-lying land, with its tiny fields of ripe grain, looks very fine. This track leads to the water-falls a prettier place for a pic-nic and one more accommodating one can scarcely find. Between this plain and the old town of Hiogo the Europeans have raised their pretty picturesque dwellings. The streets here are very regular and well kept, the trees planted along the sides giving the place quite a French appearance.

There is at least one I was about to say magnificent street in the town, with an extent of over two miles, along and in which all the bustle and business are conducted. Notwithstanding its recent opening, public-houses, with their alluring signs, have sprung up with mushroom-like rapidity. One in particular I will just mention, not that you are ever likely to forget “Good old Joe,” but simply that you may smile, when reading this over, at the willingness with which you were led as lambs to the slaughter. I trust you escaped without the mark of the butcher’s knife.

After traversing about half the length of the street I mentioned before, the traveller finds himself abreast of the Nanko temple, a large and imposing structure having a wide and noble-looking entrance from the street, and just now presenting a very festive and animated appearance. On either side the really grand avenue to the temple a veritable fair is being held, and such a spectacle was as welcome as it was unlooked for. The amusements were so like those provided at similar gatherings at home that the wonder is, that peoples separated by half a world of varied civilization can possess the details of such festivities in common. Confection stalls, wild beast shows, shooting galleries, archery grounds, theatres, music halls, even a Japanese edition of the thimble-and-pea business was not wanting. In one of the theatres we visited, the acting, although considered good from a Japanese point of view, possessed too many muscular contortions, too much contraction and expansion of the facial organs, to please an English audience. Men do all the acting, women never appear on the Japanese stage.

The music halls are not more enlivening than are the theatres, though the sight of an interior is worth the ten sen fee, if only to see their manner of conducting the opera. If you imagine the interior of a church, having all its pews removed, leaving only the cant pieces on which they were erected, and the spaces between these pieces covered and padded with the beautiful rice-straw matting of the country, you will get a fairly good idea of the simple fittings of a Japanese music hall. A whole family seats itself in one of these squares; and as a concert in this country is really a formidable affair, they bring their braziers, teapots, and chow-boxes with them. The performer a lady is seated, tailor fashion, on a raised platform, a music desk in front of her, and her musical instruments near at hand. The Japanese, like the Chinese, sing from the throat, and the effect produced on the tympanum is that of an amorous tom-cat chanting to his lady-love at midnight. The words she is singing, and has been singing for the a friend who was with me said “the last week;” but knowing him to be a joker, I accept the statement with caution for the last six hours, and which she will probably continue to sing for the next six, contain rather too much levity and grossness, could we understand them, to be at all suitable even for sailors. But her present audience receive them with the utmost indifference, only betraying that they are at all conscious of what is going on by an occasional clapping of the hands. Now and again the singer has a spell and a libation of saki, an attendant keeping her liberally supplied in this item, of which she manages to drink a quantity during her song; and, by way of a change at these times, she enters into a monologue or a recitation. Taken and viewed in an artistic light, the audience in their rich gala dresses is a pleasing piece of color and of harmonic contrasts.

Close to the temple a crowd is gathered around a horse box, in which is a milk-white steed sacred, of course. Before him a little table is placed, covered with tiny saucers filled with beans; and the devout and we in particular can have the puerile satisfaction of seeing him munch his comfits in a strangely horselike manner for the small sum of a “sen!” Near at hand are some more sacred creatures hundreds of turtles in a slimy pond rear their snake-like heads through the thick green water for the pieces of biscuit and little red balls of prepared food which the children are constantly flinging into their midst. These reptiles, it may be remembered, form an important figure-subject in Japanese carvings, paintings, and bronzes.

Within easy distance of Kobe, and connected with it by rail, are the cities of Osaca and Kioto, the former being the seaport of the latter, and, possibly, the greatest trade centre in the empire. It seems to be built at the delta of a river; and as there are scores of bridges spanning their several mouths, it has much the appearance of Venice. Kioto is the sacred city of Japan, and contains, amongst other interesting sights, a large temple, in which are no fewer than 33,333 gods! Yearly pilgrimages are made here; and to provide spiritual ministrations for the thousands of pilgrims, it is said that the priests form one-fifth of the entire population.

June 17th, to-day we completed with coal and started for Yokohama, leaving the Inland Sea by its south eastern entrance and entering on the broad bosom of the great Pacific. By the help of a splendid breeze we are speedily clear of the Linschoten strait and in view of a strange picture, for giant Fusi begins to rear his hoary head above the main.

At first it appears but a small conical shaped island, rising isolated from the midst of the sea, and which in a few hours we shall reach. But a few hours multiply into scores of hours, and still that island appears at a tantalizing distance, and it is not until the main land comes into view that we discover the misty island is no island at all, but a superb mountain. It can be seen at an immense distance from the sea; we, ourselves, are, at the very least, sixty miles from its base, and yet how clearly distinct, how tangibly present, how boldly out-lined it stands against the opal tints of the evening sky.

Fusi-yama “the peerless,” “the matchless,” or “the unrivalled,” is an extinct volcano, on the island of Niphon, though, only a century since, it was in active operation, and is said to have been brought into existence in the space of a few days. Few sights are likely to leave such an impression on one’s mind, as solitary, graceful, cold looking Fusi, which, clothed in a mantle of snow, may, not inaptly, be compared to a grim sentinel guarding the destinies of a nation. But who shall attempt a description of its glories as we saw it that evening at sunset, and many an evening afterward, with the chance and transient effect of light and shade playing on its pearly sides.

June 19. The freshening gale soon rattled us past the town of Simoda, and into the great bay of Yedo, with the volcano of Vries at its entrance. Hundreds of queer-shaped junks and smaller craft, laden with the produce of the busy nation, glide across the rolling seas with duck-like motions, on their peaceful mission to the capital.

I have before had occasion to mention these unintelligible pieces of naval architecture, but as they never before appeared to me at such advantage as now, as they struggle up the wind across our track, I have hitherto refrained from saying much about them. They are constructed very sharp forward and very broad aft, with high, rising sterns something after the manner of the Chinese junk, but far more picturesque and compact than the sister country’s vessel; and, so far as looks go, a far more seaworthy craft than the latter. They carry an immense sail of pure white canvas, save where a black cloth is let in for contrast perhaps on the huge characters composing the owner’s name, mar its fair surface; and a stout, heavy mast placed well abaft the centre of the vessel, and curved at its upper end, the better to form an overhanging derrick to hoist the sail by. The sail is made of any number of cloths laced together vertically not sewn by which method each cloth has a bellying property and wrinkled appearance, independent of its neighbours, thus the whole surface holds far more wind than one continuous sheet would do. The vessels, despite their unnautical appearance, sail well on a wind. Some writers have affirmed, that instead of reefing as we do, and as is pretty universal all over the world namely, by reducing the perpendicular height of the sail that the Japanese accomplish this by taking in sail at the sides, or laterally, by unlacing a cloth at a time. This seems to me highly absurd, and is certainly not borne out by the testimony of my own observation; and that they should not conform to the common usage of maritime nations both savage and civilized in this particular is improbable. Even the Chinese who are generally admitted to be the most unconforming and irrational people in the world reef their sails, at least, in the orthodox way. Besides taking a practical view of the matter, how are they in any sudden emergency, and with their limited crews, to undo the elaborate lacing, without going out on the yard and climbing down the sail, unlacing as they go? So far as I am able to judge, their method is a most simple and effective one, for all that they do is to lower the sail, gather in the slack at the bottom, and as there are several sheets up and down the breech of the sail, the thing is done with the utmost facility.

The build of a junk’s stern is somewhat peculiar, for there is a great hollow which, apparently, penetrates the body of the vessel; a mode of construction said to be due to an edict of one of the tycoons, to prevent his subjects from leaving the country; for though it seems incredible, these junks have been known to voyage to India. The sampan has a similar faulty arrangement of stern. Though the people obeyed the spirit of the law, they evaded the letter of it by placing sliding watertight boards across the aperture.

By noon we had anchored off Yokohama, now a large and flourishing town, and the chief naval and foreign trading port of Japan, though, before the English arrived here in 1854, it was little more than a village.

Having got through the noise and smoke of salutes to no less than four admirals, and other minor consular expenditures of gunpowder, we prepared ourselves for a pleasurable stay in the sailor’s paradise. Perhaps no place in the round of sailors’ visits, certainly none on this station, offers so many inducements, so many and pleasing channels of getting rid of money, as does Yokohama. Certain it is that the officers, who form the banking committee on board, never complain of being over worked, during a ship’s stay in this harbour, and plethoric bank books are frequently reduced to a sad and pitiable state of emaciation after having “done” Yokohama and its vicinity.

The residences of the Europeans are situated out of the town on a rising ground to the left, known as the Bluff. Here the merchants live in rural magnificence, each with his mansion surrounded by its own park-like grounds. The English and foreign naval hospitals are also situated in this healthy and beautiful spot; and it was here, too, that our recent marine contingent to Japan had their barrack.

The European concession is a small town in itself, and from the nomenclature of the landing places it would appear that the English and French claim the greatest interests here. These landing stages are called, from the division of the settlement which they front, the English and French “Hatobahs” the “atter bar” of the sailor.

As this town is the great point of contest between the Japanese and the foreigner, everything in the shape of “curios” can be obtained in its marts and bazaars. Most of the objects are novel to us, and from their attractiveness generally induce sailors to purchase on the strength of that very quality. Except in very rare instances a piece of real lacquer can scarcely be obtained, most of it having already found its way to Europe; that which we see here is made chiefly for sailors, who needs must take something home they care not what, nor are they very particular about the price asked. And how well these people have studied the “tar;” how they have discovered his weakness for startling colours! I am writing this about four years subsequent to this, our first visit, and one would think, that four years was amply sufficient for the purpose of opening our eyes to deceptions. Have they though? Not a bit of it, for we are quite as ready to be “taken in” to-day or to-morrow, as we were four years since. Still, there are some very handsome and, now and then, really elegant things to be picked up in the shops: bronzes, lacquers, china, tortoise-shell earrings, fans, paintings, or silk, combining in their execution, the most educated taste, and the most wonderful skill. Generally speaking a “Japper” after naming a price will rarely retract. The Chinaman always will, the rogue! The Japanese know this peculiarity of the Chinaman, and nothing will wound a Jap’s self-respect more than to compare his mode of dealing with the celestial’s.

They seem to enjoy arguing and chaffering over prices, and will frequently go to the length of pulling down masses of paper, supposed to be invoices, to shew that they are asking you fair. We pretend to examine these inventories with a most erudite expression on our ignorant faces, and invariably commence to open the wrong end of the book, forgetful that the Japanese commence at what we call the last page. The dealers display the utmost indifference as to whether you buy or not, and you may pull their shops to pieces without raising their ire in the slightest, for they will bow to you just as ceremoniously on leaving as though you had purchased twenty dollars’ worth.

Strange as Japanese art appears to us, there is design in all their executions. This presents a marked contrast to Chinese art, which appears to be simply the result of the artist’s fancy. A Chinaman seems to have no idea, when he commences a thing, what he is going to produce, he goes on cutting and scraping, taking advantage of, here a vein in a stone, perhaps, or there a knot in the gnarled branches of a tree, and his imagination, distorted by the diabolical forms with which his superstition surrounds him, does the rest.

And now I will ask you to take a run with me to Tokio, the capital of Japan.

The hour’s ride by rail conducts us through a pleasant, well cultivated country. Fields of ripe grain, clusters of woods with cottages peeping out of their bosky shades, and surrounded by stacks of hay and corn, have, for the Englishman, a farm-like and altogether a home-like look.

The best and safest method to adopt on arriving at the terminus is to hire rickshas of the company at the railway station, by so doing you are saved from being victimised by the coolies, who are about as honest as the Jehus of our own streets. You may employ them for as many hours as you please, but to avoid fractions it is usual to engage them by the day.

Until Japan was opened to foreigners, Tokio, or Yedo, was a mystery to the civilized world. It was supposed to be fabulously large, and was said to contain more inhabitants than any other metropolis in the world; some accounts putting it down to as many as four millions. As regards its extent, the city certainly does cover an immense space. Its population, though, is but half that of London. Its large area is due, perhaps, more to the manner in which it is laid out, than to anything else which is in the form of concentric circles, the mikado’s palace, or castle, occupying the centre. Around this dismal, feudal looking, royal abode, the various embassies are erected; buildings which present a far finer because more modern and European appearance than does the imperial residence. Circling the whole is a large deep moat, the waters of which are thickly studded with beautiful water lilies, and spanned by several bridges. Then come the dingy and now disused houses and streets of those powerful men of a by-gone age, the daïmios. The whole aspect of this question may be summed up in the word desolation. This, too, is surrounded by a canal, or moat. Beyond this, again comes the city proper, with its busy, bustling population.

We are entirely at the mercy of our “ricksha” men, and have not the remotest idea of where they are driving us; but assuming they know more about the city than we, this does not exercise us much. They rattle us along over unevenly paved streets, and whiz us around corners with the rapidity of thought; an uncomfortable sensation in the region of the dorsal vertebrae, resulting from the unusual bumping process, and a fear lest, haply, we may be flying out of our carriage at a tangent into somebody’s shop front, a pleasing reflection should we take a header amongst china.

Our coolies had been directed to a quarter of the city called Shiba, and here at length we find ourselves, and are shortly set down before one of the grandest buddhist temples in Japan. How peacefully the great building reposes in its dark casket of solemn fir trees! To reach the main entrance, we traverse a broad pathway lined with praying lanterns on either hand. These lanterns are stone pedestals, surmounted by a hollow stone ball with a crescent shaped aperture in its surface, through which, at night, the rays of light proceeding from burning prayers penetrate the gloom. Scores of tombs, containing the remains of the defunct tycoons and their wives, fill the temple court; and as each successive tycoon looked forward to reposing here after death, during life he richly embellished it, and endeavoured to make it worthy to receive so august a body as his own.

A bald-headed priest, standing at the great entrance, bids us remove our shoes and follow him. He conducts us up grand stair cases, through corridors, into courtyards, chapels, and sanctuaries; unlocks recesses, and produces sacred vessels of massive gold work of vast antiquity and splendid design, intimating to us that these are for the sole use of the mikado, when he assumes his priestly office. Here we get our first idea of what real lacquer means. Our bonze brought out a small lacquered cubical box, of a dull gold colour, and about four inches in height, and gave us to understand that it could not be purchased for 500 dollars! Just fancy! And then the carving, gilding, colouring, and lacquer, everywhere, is something beyond description. Even the very floors on which we tread, the stairs, the hand-rails, are all gorgeous with vermilion lacquer. One sanctuary is really resplendent, its vessel’s mouldings and ornaments being of dead gold work, wrought in all kinds of emblematical designs and shapes. I feel assured that no thoughtful man can visit Shiba’s temple without being impressed with the high perfection to which the Japanese have attained in the arts; a perfection which the foreign mind can rarely grasp. After a donation to the polite bonze which he receives on a gold salver and lays on the altar we encase our feet in leather once more, and leave the sacred precincts. We may possibly never have the opportunity of paying Shiba a second visit; but the privilege of having done so once is to a man of research a liberal education in itself.

The streets and their busy throng are very gay and lively. Hosts of healthy-looking and prettily clad children are running here, there, and everywhere in pursuit of their kites, and other childish amusements. Vendors hawking their wares, as at home; the shrill melancholy whistle of the blind shampooer who, with a staff in one hand and a short bamboo pipe in the other, thus apprises people of his willingness to attend on them; ladies bowing and “sayonaraing” each other in musical tones; the encouraging voice of the driver to his jaded ox; and the warning “a a” of the ricksha man; these are the music of the streets in “the land of the rising sun.”

The city can boast in the possession of several very fine and extensive parks, that in which the Naval College is situate being one of the largest. Here the youthful Japanese officers of the navy were educated by English instructors in all the branches and requirements of the modern naval service, and some of the work we saw in the different parts of the building shews that the Japanese have become thorough masters of the technicalities, and no mean adepts at their practical application. All the foreign instructors except one have now been discharged, the Japanese feeling themselves strong enough to walk alone in naval matters. That one exception is a chief gunner’s mate, who so rarely uses the English language that, on conversing with us, he had frequently to pause to consider what words he should make use of, and even then his English was broken, and spoken just as a native would speak it.

On the return ride to Yokohama I was fortunate enough to find myself seated next a gentleman who has been resident in Japan upwards of twenty-five years, during which period he has travelled throughout the length and breadth of the empire. As may be imagined he was a repository of much valuable and varied information. He could hoist out facts and figures as easily as you would fling a weevily biscuit to leeward. From his conversation with me I gained much knowledge about Japan, which it was impossible I could have acquired in any other way, and all of which I have embodied in various parts of this narrative.

The manner in which the natural taste is assimilating itself to European ideas appears more evident when one comes to observe the hundreds of Japanese who take advantage of the railway. Stop at what station you like, you will find the platform suddenly alive with gaily dressed and clogged passengers, on pleasure bent, loaded with toys or wares that have been purchased, in the gay capital.

A few days after the above events the Japanese squadron of smart corvettes, and the large ironclad “Foo-soo” (Great Japan, as we say Great Britain,) got under way and proceeded to sea. It was rumoured that the mikado was to have accompanied in his yacht, and in anticipation of his embarkation all the men-of-war in harbour dressed ship, though, as it turned out, he did not put in an appearance.

July 3rd. General Grant arrived this morning in the corvette “Richmond,” and escorted by a Japanese man-of-war. All ships, except the English and German, dressed in honour of the American flag, which the corvette flew at her main. The two nationalities I have mentioned seem to have offered a marked discourtesy to the general, the German especially so, for just as the “Richmond” was about to anchor the “Prinz Adalbert” broke the German royal standard at her royal mast head, which, as it were, blew the charges out of guns already loaded for the American. The “Adalbert” has Prince Heinrich, the second son of our Princess Royal, on board as a midshipman; hence the standard.

It would appear that the slight passed on Jonathan did not go entirely unnoticed by him, for in the evening, at sunset, when, as is customary with that nation, her band played her colours down and then the national anthems, it was noticed that the English and German tunes were studiously omitted.

But the “Richmond” had taken up a bad billet to anchor in, and to find a more secure one she steamed out to the entrance of the harbour and made a wide sweep before returning. Some of our jocular shipmates had quite a different view of this proceeding, for, if we are to believe them, the American went out to take the turn out of her flags, or to allow her ship’s company to bathe, the waters of the harbour being too shallow for the latter purpose!

Unwillingly my pen has once again to trace the lines which are to record the death of another of our poor fellows, Frederick Smyth, a stoker. Returning from leave in one of the open, dangerous, shallow boats of the place, and perhaps slightly the worse for liquor, the unfortunate man fell overboard, his body not being recovered until some days after the sad event.

July 22nd. Up anchor once more! Onward is our motto, nor are we particularly sorry to be on the move, for I think everybody is surfeited with Yokohama, and perhaps the fact that everybody’s money is all gone, has something to do with our eagerness to be off. So, boys, “We’ll go to sea for more,” as the old tars did. Just as the anchor was a-trip two royal personages came on board, the Princes Arisugawa father and son; the father being the commander-in-chief of the Japanese army; the son a “midshipmite” in the Imperial navy. They were attended by their suite and Sir Harry Parkes, the British ambassador at Tokio. We took them a short distance to sea with us, and after seeing one or two evolutions they returned to Yokohama in the “Vigilant,” whilst we resumed our voyage.