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Invitation from the American Minister to visit Yedo Inland road Nanka-nobu tea-garden Extraordinary Glycine Pleasant lanes and hedges Civility of the people Arrive at the American Legation Guard and spies Large tree Unpleasant diplomatic correspondence Nursery gardens in the country visited Summer flowers and new plants Return to Yedo A ride in the country Mr. Heuskin's tomb "Temple of Twelve Altars" Poets' Avenue How a drunken Japanese makes himself sober Shoeing horses Departure from Yedo General remarks on the city and suburbs.
HAVING ransacked the country in the vicinity of Yokuhama and Kanagawa, I was very desirous of paying another visit to the capital. The nursery-gardens of Sumae-yah and Dang-o-zaka, in which I had found so many new plants during the previous winter, had no doubt many others of interest which could only be judged of in spring or early summer; but Yedo was a sealed city to all who were not officials, unless they were specially invited as guests by their minister at the Court of the Tycoon. Unfortunately his Excellency Mr. Alcock, to whom I had been indebted for much kindness and hospitality on a former occasion, was now absent in China, and it was generally reported that no Englishman would be allowed to visit the city until he returned. Under these circumstances I was unwilling to make an application to the gentleman who had been left in charge of the Legation, as he might not have the power to grant me my request, and at the same time it would be disagreeable, I thought, for him to refuse. What was then to be done? Mr. Alcock was not expected back until the end of June, and if I could not visit Yedo until that time all the spring-flowers would be past, and the opportunity of adding some plants of interest and value to my collection would be lost. Most anxious to accomplish the object I had in view, I wrote to Mr. Townsend Harris, the United States Minister, and asked him to receive me for a few days at the American Legation. Mr. Harris sent me a very kind reply, inviting me to his house in Yedo, and begging me to remain there as long as I pleased. Thus far everything went well, and I was delighted with the opportunity which I was likely to have of adding to the number of those useful and beautiful trees and other plants which I had discovered in Yedo the winter before; but the sequel will show that things were not destined to go on quite so smoothly as I had anticipated.
On the 20th of May Mr. Portman and a guard of yakoneens were sent down to meet me at the river Loga. I had frequently heard of a beautiful inland road from Kanagawa to Yedo; and as I had seen quite enough of the Imperial highway, it was determined that we should take the new route. Before striking into the country we paid a visit to the celebrated tea-house at Omora, which I have formerly noticed. The large garden attached to this "Mansion of Plum-trees" was now in great beauty. The trees were in full leaf, forming shady walks and avenues where travellers or visitors could shelter themselves from the sun's rays, which were now becoming more powerful every day. The pretty waiting-maids brought us sundry cups of tea with different kinds of cake. Pleasant, very pleasant, was that "Mansion of Plum-trees," but it was necessary to "move on."
Leaving the Tokaido behind us, we took a bridle-path which led us more inland, and soon afterwards we struck a broad country road, by which we journeyed onwards in the direction of the capital. On our way we called at a place called Nanka-nobu to see a large specimen of Glycine sinensis, which was one of the lions in this part of the country. It was evidently a tree of great age. It measured, at three feet from the ground, seven feet in circumference, and covered a space of trelliswork sixty feet by one hundred and two feet. The trellis was about eight feet in height, and many thousands of the long racemes of the glycine hung down nearly half-way to the ground. One of them, which I measured, was three feet six inches in length. The thousands of long, drooping, lilac racemes had a most extraordinary and beautiful appearance. People came from far and near to see the tree during the time it remained in bloom; and as it was in the garden of a public tea-house, it brought an extensive custom to the proprietor.
Tables and benches were arranged under its shade, which at the time of our visit were well occupied with travellers and visitors, all sipping and apparently enjoying the grateful and invigorating beverage. As the clay was cloudless, and the sun's rays powerful, we were not slow to imitate the example they set before us, so we sipped our tea, smoked a cigar, and admired this beautiful specimen of the vegetable kingdom.
Our road during the remainder of our journey was a very pleasant one, and led us through lanes fringed on each side with pretty hedges and tall trees, the latter affording a pleasing shade. Many little villages and comfortable-looking inns or teahouses were passed by the way. Most of these teahouses had gardens filled with pretty flowering plants for the enjoyment of their patrons, and in more than one of them we noticed a trellis covered with the Glycine sinensis in full bloom. This trailing tree is evidently a great favourite with the Japanese, and it well deserves to be so. Everywhere the people seemed most inoffensive and even friendly, showing a natural curiosity to see the Tojins (Chinamen or foreigners), as they called us, and now and then saluting us with the friendly "Anata, Ohio." Japan would be a pleasant place to live or travel in were it freed from those bands of two-sworded idlers which infest the capital, and render a residence there sometimes far from agreeable.
As we entered the suburbs of Yedo we met the young gentlemen of the English Legation going out for a ride in the country, followed by a large number of yakoneens. This was rather an unlucky meeting, as it afterwards turned out, although I had no idea at the time that I had done anything wrong. A few words were exchanged with those of them whom I knew, and we parted apparently good friends. Some one told me afterwards that the only gentleman in the party unknown to me, and who it seems had been left in charge of Her Majesty's Legation, looked very indignant; but as I did not observe his countenance, I was left in blissful ignorance of the wrath which he was "nursing to keep warm" until some hours afterward.
We arrived at the American Legation between five and six o'clock in the afternoon, where I was most kindly received by his Excellency. Like all the other foreign ministers in Yedo, Mr. Harris occupies a large and roomy temple. An avenue leads up from one of the streets of the town to the temple. Two noble trees of Salisburia adiantifolia guard the entrance, and one of them is the largest specimen of the kind I have yet met with. Its circumference, about six feet from the ground, is twenty-eight feet, and it is fully a hundred feet in height. On one of the sides of this temple there is the usual cemetery, and behind it is a hill covered with lofty trees. Then there are the usual guardhouses filled with armed yakoneens, and a small, quiet-looking place, which is said to be the residence of the spy or spies by whom the sayings and doings of every one in the Legation are duly chronicled.
While we were sitting at dinner this evening I received the following letter from Her Majesty's Legation:
"As no British subject can visit Yeddo without an invitation from, or the sanction of, Her Britannic Majesty's Minister, or, in his absence, the officer in charge of Her Majesty's Legation, from neither of whom you have received such invitation or sanction, I have to request you will take your departure from Yeddo without delay.
"I have, &c.,
"F. G. MYBURGH,
"In charge of H.B.M. Legation."
Early on the following morning I sent a reply to this letter as follows:
"I had the honour to receive your letter of yesterday's date, upon which I beg to make the following observations. I returned to Japan a short time ago for the purpose of examining the natural productions of the country during the spring months, hoping to make some discoveries which might prove useful at home. For this purpose it was of great importance that I should be able to visit the gardens about Yedo. Unfortunately on my arrival at Kanagawa I found Her Majesty's Minister absent from Yedo, and I was given to understand that I could not obtain permission from the officer in charge of the Legation to visit the city. His Excellency Mr. Alcock has always shown every disposition to forward my views, and had he been here I have no doubt he would willingly have granted the permission I required. Under the circumstances I wrote to his Excellency the American Minister, and asked him to grant me that permission which I am sure I would have received from Her Majesty's representative had he been in Yedo. Mr. Harris, in the kindest manner, invited me to his house as his guest, in order to enable me to accomplish the objects I had in view.
"With this explanation, I trust you will not insist on my leaving Yedo for a few days, as it might be a matter of public regret should I be prevented from adding to our home collection some new trees or other plants of much interest."
Having despatched this letter, and trusting to receive a favourable reply, I was furnished with the usual guard of yakoneens, and we rode out to visit the nursery-gardens of Sumae-yah and Dango-zaka. We took the same route through the city which I have fully described in an earlier chapter, and witnessed the same scenes. The Sumae-yah gardens, however, presented quite a different appearance from what they had done in the autumn before. They had put on their summer dress; the trees were covered with leaves, and many flowering shrubs and herbaceous plants were in full bloom. Amongst those which interested me most, because they were new to me, were a beautiful new oak with large and handsome leaves, several new maples with leaves beautifully marked with rich colours, new species of Weigela, clematis, lychnis, and a variety of Solomon's seal having its leaves beautifully striped with broad white lines.
The Dang-o-zaka gardens, which were next visited, were ransacked in the same way. Every corner was examined, and several new and important plants were added to my collections which had not been seen by me during my former visits. I have already stated that the town of Dang-o-zaka is in a valley, and very pretty it seemed, with its clean houses sheltered and adorned by richly-wooded hills. It is a pretty place at all seasons, for there are so many pines and other trees that retain their leaves all the winter, that the woods may be said to be evergreen. Now, however, the leaves and flowers of deciduous trees were mixed up with those of the evergreen oaks and pines, and formed a pleasing contrast.
As on former occasions, an account of all the plants I purchased and the sums to be paid for them was carefully written down by one of my attendant yakoneens, and no doubt a full and particular report of my doings was forwarded to the proper quarter. This system has, however, one great advantage, and it is this the most perfect reliance may be placed on the men with whom you have made your bargains; they will certainly bring the articles at the time appointed, and will not attempt to demand more than the sum which they have agreed to.
As these gardens were very numerous, the whole day was spent in examining them; and my attendants, long before I had finished, had been giving me sundry broad hints that it was time to set out on our return to Yedo. When I had finished my investigations we mounted our horses and rode homewards, arriving at the American Legation before nightfall. Here I found a letter waiting for me, of which the following is a "true copy:"
"I beg to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of to-day, and regret that you have placed me under the necessity of again writing to you. I care not to be informed now for what object you have come to Japan, or that Her Majesty's Minister would have granted you permission to visit Yedo had he been here I only know that you are a private individual in a private capacity in this country, and that you have not asked for nor received the requisite sanction from the British authority here to come up to Yedo.
"It is of no consequence to me now what you were given to understand at Kanagawa; but you must have been well aware that the American Minister has not the power to grant you, or any other British subject, permission to visit Yedo. It was your duty to have communicated with me on the subject, but this you had not the common courtesy to do; and you actually came up to Yedo without even my knowledge. I think I have said enough to show you that you have acted in an improper manner. Whether it would be a matter of public regret or not your being unable to accomplish your private ends, is not a question for me to consider. I am only performing my public duty when I call upon you a second time to quit Yedo at once. To allow you to remain would be to establish a dangerous precedent.
"I have, &c.,
"F. G. MYBURGH."
This communication did not take away my breath or my appetite for dinner, as, perhaps, it ought to have done. On the following morning (for I prefer to sleep upon anything disagreeable) I sent the following reply to the insulting letter I had received a reply which I trust will show that, although only a "private individual," I was incapable of doing anything rude or uncourteous:
"As I am unwilling to do anything that may have the slightest appearance of disrespect to Her Majesty's Legation in Yedo, I shall leave the city at once probably this evening, or, at latest, to-morrow morning. I may have been wrong in accepting the invitation of His Excellency the American Minister without first obtaining permission from yourself (although, I believe, such a proceeding is not without a precedent), but I had no intention of, and could have no motive for, treating you with disrespect, as my letter of yesterday might have shown you. I have therefore to complain of the very uncourteous style of your last letter, which you have thought it your public duty to address to me as a British subject, and with this remark I beg to close my correspondence."
It is stipulated in the treaties which the Japanese have made with foreign powers, that no foreigner, unless he be an official, can proceed nearer to Yedo than that point where the river Loga intersects the Imperial highway. But all the ministers who reside there had been in the habit of inviting their friends to Yedo, apparently with the knowledge and sanction of the Japanese Government. Even English ladies had been there on several occasions, and had returned highly delighted with their view of the great city. I had, therefore, no idea that I was committing a heinous offence in accepting the hospitality of the representative of a friendly Power, particularly as it was well known I had no dangerous political objects in view. But I was unfortunately a British subject, and I had come to Yedo (unwittingly, I must confess) without first bowing the knee to him who was dressed in a little brief authority. I have been travelling in Eastern countries for nearly eighteen. years, and I can truly state, that, during that long period, I have on every other occasion received the greatest and most disinterested kindness from every officer in Her Majesty's service with whom I have come in contact. I sincerely regret that I have had to mention one exception, which is perhaps not worth the prominence I have given to it in these pages. Let me turn, then, to a more agreeable subject.
On the morning after my visit to Sumae-yah and Dang-o-zaka the different nurserymen presented themselves at the American Legation, with the plants I had purchased. Notwithstanding the shortness of the time I had been allowed to stay, the collection thus brought together was one of great interest, and mostly new to science. Orders were now given to prepare baskets to pack them in for conveyance to Kanagawa; and while these were being got ready, Mr. Harris invited me to accompany him in a ride into the country.
On our way we paid a visit to the grave of poor Mr. Heuskin, formerly interpreter to the American Legation, who had been waylaid and murdered by some Japanese a few months before. The tomb is placed in a quiet and beautiful spot on the hill-side amongst some lofty trees. A neat and substantial monument, with a simple inscription, has been placed on the grave by Mr. Harris, and a hedge of evergreen oak and camellias has been planted around it by his orders.
Leaving poor Heuskin's grave, we rode on in a westerly direction for about two hours, taking many a winding path in order to see the more remarkable portions of this beautiful suburban scenery, with which Mr. Harris was well acquainted, and of which he was one of the most enthusiastic admirers. Our destination was a place called Joo-ne-shoo, or the Temple of the Twelve Altars. This temple is situated in a wood, and has a waterfall on one side, and a lake on the other. Numerous tea-houses do a thriving trade here, as the place is much resorted to by the good citizens of Yedo. Saki, which is rather stronger than tea, is also consumed in considerable quantities. Report says that many of the visitors are particularly fond of composing and reciting poetry in one of the avenues near the temple, and that sundry draughts of the favourite beverage are taken to brighten the intellect and to excite the imagination. At the upper end of this avenue there are sundry jets of water, each having a fall of about six feet, which are used in a curious way that is worth mentioning. It seems that, when the poet or philosopher, or whoever he may be, has imbibed so much saki as to render him incapable of further enjoyment in fact, when he is what is vulgarly termed drunk he gravely proceeds and places his head under one of these jets of cold water. This has the effect of making him a more sober, if not a wiser, man, and it enables him to return once more to the enjoyment of his saki. How often this system can be repeated in an afternoon with the same results, I am not informed. It is to be hoped, however, that it is more beneficial to the literature of the country than it can be to the constitutions of those who thus enjoy themselves at the "Temple of the Twelve Altars."
After visiting the waterfall, Poets' Avenue, and other places of interest, we sat down in one of the little sheds on the banks of the lake, and refreshed ourselves with sundry cups of hot tea. We returned home by a different road, but the same kinds of beautiful lanes, valleys, country houses, and gardens were passed as on our way out. A ride of some six miles brought us again to the great city, and we were soon threading our way amongst crowds of human beings, packhorses, and dust a striking contrast to that sylvan scenery which we had just been enjoying.
Mr. Harris related an amusing circumstance connected with the shoeing of horses in Japan, which illustrates the ready way in which the people of the country adopt foreign customs when seen to be improvements on their own. I have already had occasion to mention the marked difference which exists between the Chinese and the Japanese in this respect. "Oula custom" old custom is the barrier to every foreign introduction in China, while the Japanese adopt with promptness every improvement which is set before them. When Mr. Harris first went to reside in Yedo, his horse was shod with iron shoes in the usual way. Up to this time the horses of the Japanese either wore straw shoes, or were not shod at all. One day an officer came to Mr. Harris and asked him to lend him his horse, and to be good enough to ask no questions as to the purpose for which the animal was required. This strange request was good-humouredly complied with, and the horse, after being away for a short time, was duly brought back. The officer to whom it had been lent came to the American Legation a few days afterwards, and told Mr. Harris, as a great secret, that the Prime Minister had sent for the horse to examine his shoes; and now, he said, the Minister's horse had been shod in the same way, and all the horses of the other officers were likewise being shod!
As I did not wish to embroil myself in any way with the authorities of Her Majesty's Legation, left Yedo on the following morning, and took the road to Kanagawa.
In this and in former chapters I have endeavoured to give a description of the Japanese capital and suburbs, and I shall now end my account with a few general observations. Although Yedo is a large city, and remarkable in many ways, it cannot be compared with London, Paris, or any of the chief towns in Europe, either in the architecture of its buildings, the magnificence of its shops, or in the value of its merchandize. It has no Woolwich or Greenwich no St. Paul's or Westminster Abbey no Champs Elysιes or Versailles; it has nothing to show like the Boulevards in Paris or like Regent Street in London. Indeed the habits and wants of the people are so different from those of European nations, that we have little in common for a comparison. But, nevertheless, Yedo is a wonderful place, and will always possess attractions peculiarly its own in the eyes of a foreign visitor. It is of great size for an Oriental city; its palace surrounded by deep moats and grassy banks, the official quarter, the residences of the native princes, its wide streets, and beautiful bay will always be looked upon with a certain degree of interest. Then, the views which are obtained from the hills in its neighbourhood are such as may well challenge comparison with those of any other town in Europe or elsewhere. Its suburbs, too, as I have already shown, are remarkable in many ways. Those beautiful valleys, wooded hills, and quiet lanes fringed with noble trees and evergreen hedges, would be difficult to match in any other part of the world.