Web Text-ures Logo
Web and Book design,
Copyright, Kellscraft Studio

(Return to Web Text-ures)
Click Here to return to
Yedo and Peking
Content Page

 Return to the Previous Chapter
Kellscraft Studio Logo


Journey into the country — Fine views by the way — Town of Kanasawa — Our inn — Visit to a temple — The visitors' book — Crowds in front of the inn — Their manners and customs — Japanese bedrooms — Natural productions — Uncultivated land — Remarks on the extent of population in Japan — Fine views — Kamakura the ancient capital — An insane woman — Her extraordinary conduct — Our inn at Kamakura — Large bronze image — its interior — Crowds and their behaviour — A tiffin and a siesta — Visit to the temples of Kamakura — The sacred stone — Yuritomo's tomb — A page from Japanese history — Return to Kanagawa.

A FEW miles south from Yokuhama there is a pretty town named Kanasawa, and a little farther on is Kamakura, said to be the ancient capital of Japan. I had frequently heard of the beauty of these places, and more particularly of the scenery by which they were surrounded; and I therefore determined to visit them, and set out for this purpose on the 4th of July. On this occasion I was accompanied by Dr. Dickson from China, and Messrs. Ross and Hope, merchants in Yokuhama. The first part of our road led us up through a beautiful valley, with richly-wooded hills dipping into it on either side, and giving it a pleasing and irregular outline. On the edges of this valley there were many cottages and farm-houses, and now and then we passed pretty glens which led up amongst the background of hills. Our road gradually ascended to a higher elevation; and when the highest point on the top of the hills was gained, we obtained a glorious view of scenery which reminded me of some of the prettiest spots in the Himalayas. We then continued our way along the ridge of the mountains, and looked down to the right and left upon valleys, glens, and round hills, all covered with the most luxuriant vegetation. A very beautiful new lily (Lilium auratum) was met with on the hill-sides in full bloom, and its roots were dug up and added to my collections. Far away to the eastward the sea lay spread out before us, studded with - islands, and dotted here and there with the white sails of junks and fishing-boats. After we had travelled along the mountain-ridge for some distance, the road began gradually to lead down hill, and about six o'clock in the evening we reached the village of Kanasawa, which lies close upon the sea-shore.

Having engaged rooms at one of the principal inns of the place, we strolled out to look at the town. Kanasawa is a small place with a single street about half a mile in length, in which there are several inns and tea-houses. This spot is remarkable and celebrated amongst the Japanese for its fine scenery. The sea comes in towards it between some small islands, and presents the appearance of a landlocked lake. Little hills, crowned with temples and trees, are studded about, from which charming views of sea and land scenery can be obtained. We ascended one of these, and were kindly received by the priests attached to the temple. Some fine fresh fruit of the loquat, and sundry cups of very good tea, were presented to us, and a visitors' book was brought in which to insert our names. This book contained the names of many distinguished Japanese who had honoured the place with a visit; and numerous sketches and scraps of poetry, composed upon the spot, recorded the beauties of the situation and the fine views which it commanded. The book was examined with much interest by the members of our little party, and Dr. Dickson proposed to buy it, offering the munificent sum of fourpence halfpenny as an inducement to the priest to part with it. The Japanese are certainly a curious people; they will sell anything for money. The priest took the tempos, and Dr. Dickson carried off the visitors' book with its valuable autographs, clever sketches, and immortal poetry. After visiting some other places of interest, we returned to our inn, having been everywhere received with the greatest politeness by the people.

We occupied a suite of rooms upstairs. They communicated with each other by sliding doors made of paper pasted over a wooden frame; these doors could be taken out, and the whole flat converted into one room when required. The room in which we dined looked out upon the sea, and the high road of the town was under our windows. As the weather was exceedingly warm, the windows were out, and we were fully exposed to the sea-breeze and to a crowd of natives of both sexes and of all ages who crowded the road in front of the inn. After dinner we sat on a ledge at the window, and amused ourselves with the crowd below. Strange questions were put to us on many subjects; and as the Japanese, as a people, have not our ideas of morality, many of their questions and remarks were not such as I can repeat here. Our landlord, who was probably better acquainted with our manners and customs than the crowd under his windows, several times expostulated with them in an angry tone, but produced no effect. Once or twice a bucket of water was added to his arguments; but although this induced them to scamper away for an instant, they soon came back again. As the night wore on the crowd gradually dispersed, and, intending to be up early next morning, we followed their example and retired to rest.

The floors of our bedrooms were covered with clean matting, and a padded counterpane was laid in the middle of each room, with a wooden pillow for the head to rest upon. Ample mosquito curtains, nearly as large as the room itself, reached from the ceiling to the floor.

Next morning at daylight we were up, and, in order to refresh ourselves, we had a plunge in the bay. As we intended to proceed immediately after breakfast across the hills to the ancient town of Kamakura, I employed the time before our meal was ready in visiting several places of interest in the vicinity in search of new plants. In the grounds of a native prince here I observed some trees of Podocarpus macrophyllus of great size, some fine examples of Pinus massoniana, and a new Arborvitζ (Thuja falcata).

The town of Kamakura was distant from Kanazawa some five miles. We sent our horses onward by the lower route, and chose the hill-road ourselves, in order to get a better view of the surrounding country. After leaving the valley this road led us gradually upwards, and then along a ridge of hills somewhat like those we had noticed the day before on the journey from Yokuhama. When we had attained a considerable elevation, the views on all sides were exceedingly fine and extensive. On our right hand and on our left we looked down upon and over a perfect sea of hills, of all sizes and of every conceivable form, covered, from their summits to the valleys below, with trees and brushwood. Many of these forests had been planted and were now yielding valuable timber, but by far the greatest portion of them were in a state of nature, very beautiful to look upon no doubt, but covered with wild trees and dense brushwood of little value. Far away down in the valleys we observed patches of cultivated land, which, taken in connection with our mountain-road and the forests which had been planted, were the only marks of the country being inhabited by man. We did not meet one single human being during this part of our journey.

And yet the climate is one of the finest in the world; and the soil fertile and capable of growing excellent timber, and of yielding abundant crops of grain.

How can this state of things be accounted for, if we believe the statements of Thunberg, Kζmpfer, Siebold, and other travellers, that the country is densely populated? But the travellers with the Dutch embassies from Nagasaki to Yedo rarely left the imperial highway on their route, and must have received their impressions from what they observed as they went along it, and from the crowded state of the great towns through which they passed. Any one, even now, whose experience of Japan was confined to the Tokaido, would come to the same conclusion; but let him leave the great highway and penetrate into the country by its common roads, and then some doubts would probably come across his mind on the subject. And if he happens to know anything about agriculture or woodlands, and sees, on every hand, thousands of goodly acres, capable of producing crops of corn or valuable timber, lying waste or only covered with brushwood of little value, he will at least affirm that there are in that country the means of supplying all the necessaries of life to a population far greater than that which exists in Japan at the present day.

When we reached the highest land on our journey, we left the road and mounted the top of an adjoining hill, from which may be obtained one of the finest views in Japan. On the south was the sea, with the beautiful little island of Ino-sima, famous in Japanese history; to the west was a chain of mountains, with Fusi-yama towering high above them all; while, far away in the east, the capital itself may be seen on a clear day. Down in the valley below us we could discern the roofs of the houses and temples of Kamakura, the ancient capital of the country, to which we were bound.

Having rested for a while on this beautiful spot, and enjoyed the view which lay spread out before us, we set out again on our journey. The road now led down the mountain-side, a portion of the way in a ravine, down which a clear stream was running, shaded with lofty trees. At length we reached Kamakura, which presents, at the present day, no appearance of having once been a capital town. It is simply a country village, with a few mean shops and some good inns or tea-houses. But its temples, and the scenery in the neighbourhood, will always render it a place of great attraction to foreign visitors, as it has been for ages to the Japanese. It is situated at the head of a valley, with hills on each side and behind, and open in front to the sea. A fine avenue of pine-trees extends from the temples down to the beach. Handsome broad roads intersect each other and this avenue at right angles, and these are also fringed on each side with clumps and rows of trees. Cryptomeria japonica, Pinus massoniana, and Salisburia adiantifolia, are the trees generally used for these avenues.

As we entered the village a most extraordinary circumstance occurred, which took us entirely by surprise, until we remembered that we were in Japan. A woman rushed out of a shop and placed herself in the middle of the road, holding a tobacco-pipe in one hand, and a box containing some tobacco and sundry other articles in the other. When I first saw her my impression was, that she either meant to welcome us by the offer of her pipe, or that she wished to dispose of the wares in her box. But such was not her intention. To our alarm and surprise, she threw off the only garment she wore and assumed the attitude of a naked statue, at the same time putting her pipe into her mouth and puffing out clouds of tobacco-smoke. The people came running towards us from every part of the village, and were evidently accustomed to such exhibitions on the part of the individual before us. When we recovered from our surprise we came to the conclusion that the poor creature was insane, which we afterwards found to be the case.

As the day was cloudless, with the thermometer standing somewhere about 100° in the shade, we were glad to take up our quarters in a tea-house. We were welcomed by mine host and some pretty maidens, and conducted up stairs to a suite of rooms with open windows looking out upon the village. While we were sitting fanning ourselves and enjoying the shade, after the fierce heat to which we had been exposed for some hours, crowds of people assembled on the road in front of the inn, all anxious to get a glimpse of their foreign visitors. All at once there seemed some commotion amongst them, and they rushed away to look at some one who was coming towards our inn by a cross road not visible from the rooms we occupied. At first we thought this excitement was caused by a fresh arrival of foreigners from Kanagawa, who had promised to come after us and join our party. Presently, however, our mad friend came in sight, carrying in her arms a bundle of branches and some sticks of incense, as if she contemplated paying a visit to the temples or to the tombs. Poor thing! she seemed to be good-humoured and harmless in her insanity; and even the little children, although they ran away when she approached them, did not seem much afraid of her. She soon returned from the temples, and then employed herself in fetching water and pulling grass and weeds for our horses, which were tied up on the roadside in front of the inn. While engaged in this operation she seemed to fancy that the horses were fit objects of adoration; and as she fed each animal with grass, or gave it water, she closed her hands in an attitude of devotion, and muttered to it some Buddhist form of prayer.

When we had rested a short time in the inn we rode out to pay a visit to a large bronze statue which is considered one of the lions of the district. We found this situated in a pretty garden about two miles from Kamakura. When we reached the entrance to the grounds we were politely requested to dismount, as no one was allowed to ride into the sacred enclosure. We entered the garden and proceeded up a paved walk lined on each side with fine specimens of trees and shrubs, many of which were trained and clipped into curious forms. At the head of the garden stood, or rather sat, the enormous bronze image we were seeking. It was not less than thirty feet in diameter at the base, and fully forty feet in height. The proportions of the figure were admirable. At first sight we were astonished at the size of the casting, but upon a closer examination we found that the huge colossus had been cast in several parts, and then joined together or built up. On the opposite page is a native sketch, bought from the priest, which gives a good idea of the image.

An old priest who lived in a small temple adjoining told us that this figure had been placed there six hundred years ago; and no doubt, had we been better acquainted with the language of the country, we might have learned some curious particulars of its history. A door at one of the sides led into the interior. This was opened by the priest, and we were invited to enter along with him. We found the inside lighted by windows placed at the back; and there were many ornaments — such as small gilded images representing Buddhist deities, and strips of paper — hanging on the walls. Boxes were placed here for the offerings of the devotees who visit the shrine. Indeed these are found in nearly all the temples of Japan, just as they are met with in the churches of Christian countries. Altogether, the place, the scenery, and the statue, well rewarded us for our visit; and our only regret on coming away was that we could learn so little of the origin and history of this remarkable place.

Bronze Image

This part of the country abounds in temples, and in that respect was more fitted for the site of the capital of a Spiritual Emperor than for that of a temporal one; and this is what it very likely was in the early days of Japanese history, when the Mikados, or Spiritual Emperors, were the sole rulers of the country. We visited another temple in the course of the morning, not far from the bronze statue, and were shown some large tinselly-looking images which were evidently thought wonderful things by the country people. One of the most remarkable was kept in a dark place, which had to be lighted up when it was visited — another mode of getting contributions from the devout. Lithographs of this goddess were also on sale in the temple.

In Japan, as in China, noisy crowds followed us into the sacred buildings, and were anything but reverential in their demeanour. With all their noise they were good-humoured enough, and not at all unfriendly in their manner towards us. Other temples were pointed out in various directions, which we were pressed to visit; but as the day was oppressively hot, and as we had the dread of fever before our eyes, we rode back to our inn at Kamakura, determined to keep indoors until the sun's rays were less powerful.

We had ordered luncheon before we set out, and on our return we found a most substantial meal awaiting us. It consisted of excellent fish fresh from the sea, cooked in the soy of the country, and most delicious it was; fine white rice; and an omelette, rather too sweet perhaps, but very palatable. This we washed down with delicious cold water from the well of the inn, mixed with a little brandy which we had brought with us, and which we preferred to the saki of the country. No knives or forks, or rude things of that kind, seen at the tables of Western barbarians, were known at our inn at Kamakura. Chopsticks, those useful and civilized implements which feed more than four hundred millions of the human race, were the only articles used during our repast. More than one of my companions complained of the awkwardness of these instruments; but as I had been accustomed to their use in China, I took kindly to them in Japan. During the time of our meal we were waited upon by the ladies of the inn. Truth compels me to state that they were not particularly handsome, but nevertheless they were most kind and obliging, and very active in anticipating all our wants.

Fatigued with the exertions of the morning, we laid ourselves down on the clean white mats which covered the floors of our apartments, and were soon in the enjoyment of a comfortable siesta. I was the first to awake, and on looking into the room adjoining mine a curious and amusing scene presented itself. One of my companions was lying sound asleep, while the poor maniac whose acquaintance we had made in the morning was kneeling by his side, fanning his head, and every now and then pausing in this operation to clasp her hands together and mutter some words of prayer, either to him or for him, as she had done to the horses in the morning. The most amusing part of the performance was to see our friend lying perfectly unconscious of the honours that were being paid to him. The poor woman had also brought up four cups of tea and a handful of dry rice, which she laid upon the ground as an offering to our party. As soon as she saw us awake and noticing her movements, she rose quietly and walked out of the room without paying the slightest attention to any of us.

When the day had become a little cooler we left the shelter of our inn and went to pay a visit to the temples for which Kamakura is celebrated all over the empire of Japan. They are placed at the head of the valley before-mentioned, and are approached by an avenue terminating in a broad flight of stone steps in front of the temples. They are eight in number, and are only opened, we were told, once or twice a year. We did not observe any priests about them, nor any signs of Buddhist worship; and therefore they probably belonged to the Sintoo sect, the ancient religion of Japan. Their roofs are remarkable in form, and one of them has a tower somewhat like an Indian minaret. Although we could not enter these temples, we could look through the bars of their doors and see their contents. Many of them contained wooden images of different kinds, some of which were supposed to cure certain diseases, and were worshipped and prayed to by the afflicted. One in particular was pointed out which could cure ophthalmia; and we were gravely assured by our guide that any one afflicted with sore eyes, which are very common in Japan, as well as in China, had only to look upon this image and be healed.

Among the other wonders of the place was a sacred stone, curiously formed by nature, and apparently slightly assisted by art. This stone had the remarkable property, we were told, of rendering barren women fruitful. Ladies came from afar to worship it, and at the same time to turn their faces towards the holy mountain, which is said to be one of the conditions to ensure a successful issue. A box is duly provided for the reception of offerings, which shows that there is some one who is prepared to profit by the superstitions of his countrywomen. We are surprised and we pity the poor Japanese for their superstitious delusions, and yet, if one of them were to write an account of his travels amongst ourselves, could he not tell his countrymen that in enlightened England, in the nineteenth century, a class of persons gain a livelihood by telling the fortunes of our servant-girls, and sometimes of their mistresses, and promising them rich husbands, horses and carriages, and lots of romping children? With these things in our minds we should not be too hard on the superstitions of the good ladies who visit the sacred stone at Kamakura.

The afternoon was now getting cool, for the sun was sinking rapidly behind the western hills. We therefore returned to our inn, paid our bill, mounted our horses, and took the lower road for Kanasawa, the place where we had lodged the night before. As we were leaving Kamakura I rode up to the foot of a hill on our left to see the tomb of Yuritomo, a celebrated general, the founder of the race of Japanese Temporal Emperors, and a man who is remembered among the people as William Wallace or Robert Bruce is in Scotland.

The name of Yuritomo is to be found in every book which professes to give a history of Japan. Before his day the country had only one sovereign, the Mikado, or Spiritual Emperor, who was believed to be descended from the gods. A personage named Zin-mu-ten-woo is said to have been the first Mikado. Having conquered the island of Nipon, he built a dairi or temple-palace, and dedicated it to the Sun-goddess. Historians inform us that this event took place about the year 660 B.C., and it is not unlikely that Kamakura was the place chosen for the site of this temple. For many centuries, the Mikados, claiming to rule by divine right and inheritance, were indeed despotic sovereigns; and even after they had ceased to head their own armies, and had intrusted the dangerous military command to sons and kinsmen, their power long remained undisputed and uncontrolled. It was perhaps first and gradually weakened by a habit into which the Mikados fell, of abdicating at so early an age that they transferred the sovereignty to their sons while yet children. The consequent evils of a minority the retired sovereign frequently strove to remedy by governing for his young successor.

In the course of time a Mikado who had married the daughter of a powerful prince abdicated in favour of his son, then about three years of age; but in this instance the Mikado who had abdicated was not allowed to assume the regency during the minority of his child. The ambitious and powerful grandfather of the young Mikado seized the government and placed the abdicated sovereign in confinement. Then ensued a civil war, in which Yuritomo first appears as the champion of the imprisoned ex-Mikado against his usurping father-in-law. Yuritomo triumphed, released the imprisoned father, and placed the regency in his hands; but the Fowo, as he was called, held it only nominally, leaving the real power in the hands of Yuritomo, whom he created Sio-i-dai-Tycoon, or generalissimo fighting against the barbarians. The ex-Mikado died, and, as lieutenant or deputy of the sovereign, Yuritomo virtually governed the empire for twenty years. His power gradually acquired solidity and stability, and when he died he was succeeded in his title, dignity, and authority by his son.1

From the days of Yuritomo, about A.D. 1185, to the present time, the empire of Japan has had two sovereigns — a Mikado, or Spiritual Emperor, whose residence is Miaco, and a Tycoon, or Temporal Emperor, residing at Yedo. Curious stories are told about the manners and customs of the Spiritual Emperor at Miaco. It is said that he is never allowed to breathe the common air, nor are his feet allowed to touch the ground; he cannot wear the same garment twice, nor eat a second time from the same dish. The dishes used by him are broken after each meal, for should any other person attempt to dine from them he would infallibly perish by an inflammation of the throat; nor could any one wearing his cast-off garments, without his permission, escape a similar punishment. He was obliged in ancient times, we are told, to seat himself every morning on his throne, with the crown on his head, and there hold himself immovable for several hours like a statue. If he happened to move ever so little, or even to turn his eyes, war, famine, fire, or pestilence was expected soon to afflict the unhappy province towards which he had squinted; but as the country was thus kept in a state of perpetual agitation, the happy alternative was finally hit upon of placing the crown upon the throne without requiring the head of the Mikado in it, by which it was rendered more steady, and consequently did less mischief!

Up to the end of the sixteenth century the Tycoons seem to have been active and efficient rulers, possessing much independent power and influence, although their appointment appears to have been made and confirmed by the Mikado.

From that time to the present, though they may have become more independent of the Spiritual Sovereign, they have degenerated into the secluded puppets of a council of state, and are seldom seen outside of the palace-gates.

A romantic story in Yuritomo's career has been handed down by historians. In the course of the civil war the rebel Prince Feki fell in battle, and his General, named Kakekigo, was taken prisoner. This General's renown was great in Japan, and Yuritomo strove earnestly to gain the friendship and confidence of his captive. He loaded him with kindness, and finally offered him his liberty. But all was in vain. "I can love none but my slain master," said Kakekigo; "I owe you a debt of gratitude, but you have caused Prince Feki's death, and never can I look upon you without wishing to kill you. My best way to avoid such ingratitude, and to reconcile my conflicting duties, is never to see you more, and thus do I insure it." As he spoke he tore out his eyes, and presented them to Yuritomo on a salver. The Prince, struck with admiration, released him; and Kakekigo withdrew into retirement, and founded the second order of the blind.

Yuritomo's tomb is placed near the base of a hill in a charming situation. Behind it and on each side were trees and brushwood, while in front were green rice-fields extending down to the sea-beach, the little town of Kamakura, with its temples and avenues, lying between. It was approached by a flight of steps, and consisted of a small plain stone tower surrounded by a dwarf wall. The whole edifice was hoary with age, having probably been erected upwards of six hundred years ago. And this was the resting-place of a General of great renown, the first of the race of Tycoons, and a man whose memory is still cherished by the natives of Nipon.

Our lowland road back to Kanasawa was a very pleasant one, leading us at one time along the banks of a clear stream, and at another through some natural gap or deep cutting in the hills. We spent a second night in "our inn," and on the following day returned to Kanagawa.

1 'Manners and Customs of the Japanese.' London, Murray, 1852.

Book Chapter Logo Click the book image to turn to the next Chapter.