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- UNBEATEN TRACKS IN JAPAN - 6/58 -


the populace, and "not many rich, not many noble, not many mighty," enter its dim, dirty, crowded halls. {5}

But the great temple to Kwan-non is not the only sight of Asakusa. Outside it are countless shrines and temples, huge stone Amainu, or heavenly dogs, on rude blocks of stone, large cisterns of stone and bronze with and without canopies, containing water for the ablutions of the worshippers, cast iron Amainu on hewn stone pedestals--a recent gift--bronze and stone lanterns, a stone prayer-wheel in a stone post, figures of Buddha with the serene countenance of one who rests from his labours, stone idols, on which devotees have pasted slips of paper inscribed with prayers, with sticks of incense rising out of the ashes of hundreds of former sticks smouldering before them, blocks of hewn stone with Chinese and Sanskrit inscriptions, an eight-sided temple in which are figures of the "Five Hundred Disciples" of Buddha, a temple with the roof and upper part of the walls richly coloured, the circular Shinto mirror in an inner shrine, a bronze treasury outside with a bell, which is rung to attract the god's attention, a striking, five-storied pagoda, with much red lacquer, and the ends of the roof-beams very boldly carved, its heavy eaves fringed with wind bells, and its uppermost roof terminating in a graceful copper spiral of great height, with the "sacred pearl" surrounded by flames for its finial. Near it, as near most temples, is an upright frame of plain wood with tablets, on which are inscribed the names of donors to the temple, and the amount of their gifts.

There is a handsome stone-floored temple to the south-east of the main building, to which we were the sole visitors. It is lofty and very richly decorated. In the centre is an octagonal revolving room, or rather shrine, of rich red lacquer most gorgeously ornamented. It rests on a frame of carved black lacquer, and has a lacquer gallery running round it, on which several richly decorated doors open. On the application of several shoulders to this gallery the shrine rotates. It is, in fact, a revolving library of the Buddhist Scriptures, and a single turn is equivalent to a single pious perusal of them. It is an exceedingly beautiful specimen of ancient decorative lacquer work. At the back part of the temple is a draped brass figure of Buddha, with one hand raised--a dignified piece of casting. All the Buddhas have Hindoo features, and the graceful drapery and oriental repose which have been imported from India contrast singularly with the grotesque extravagances of the indigenous Japanese conceptions. In the same temple are four monstrously extravagant figures carved in wood, life-size, with clawed toes on their feet, and two great fangs in addition to the teeth in each mouth. The heads of all are surrounded with flames, and are backed by golden circlets. They are extravagantly clothed in garments which look as if they were agitated by a violent wind; they wear helmets and partial suits of armour, and hold in their right hands something between a monarch's sceptre and a priest's staff. They have goggle eyes and open mouths, and their faces are in distorted and exaggerated action. One, painted bright red, tramples on a writhing devil painted bright pink; another, painted emerald green, tramples on a sea- green devil, an indigo blue monster tramples on a sky-blue fiend, and a bright pink monster treads under his clawed feet a flesh- coloured demon. I cannot give you any idea of the hideousness of their aspect, and was much inclined to sympathise with the more innocent-looking fiends whom they were maltreating. They occur very frequently in Buddhist temples, and are said by some to be assistant-torturers to Yemma, the lord of hell, and are called by others "The gods of the Four Quarters."

The temple grounds are a most extraordinary sight. No English fair in the palmiest days of fairs ever presented such an array of attractions. Behind the temple are archery galleries in numbers, where girls, hardly so modest-looking as usual, smile and smirk, and bring straw-coloured tea in dainty cups, and tasteless sweetmeats on lacquer trays, and smoke their tiny pipes, and offer you bows of slender bamboo strips, two feet long, with rests for the arrows, and tiny cherry-wood arrows, bone-tipped, and feathered red, blue, and white, and smilingly, but quite unobtrusively, ask you to try your skill or luck at a target hanging in front of a square drum, flanked by red cushions. A click, a boom, or a hardly audible "thud," indicate the result. Nearly all the archers were grown-up men, and many of them spend hours at a time in this childish sport.

All over the grounds booths with the usual charcoal fire, copper boiler, iron kettle of curious workmanship, tiny cups, fragrant aroma of tea, and winsome, graceful girls, invite you to drink and rest, and more solid but less inviting refreshments are also to be had. Rows of pretty paper lanterns decorate all the stalls. Then there are photograph galleries, mimic tea-gardens, tableaux in which a large number of groups of life-size figures with appropriate scenery are put into motion by a creaking wheel of great size, matted lounges for rest, stands with saucers of rice, beans and peas for offerings to the gods, the pigeons, and the two sacred horses, Albino ponies, with pink eyes and noses, revoltingly greedy creatures, eating all day long and still craving for more. There are booths for singing and dancing, and under one a professional story-teller was reciting to a densely packed crowd one of the old, popular stories of crime. There are booths where for a few rin you may have the pleasure of feeding some very ugly and greedy apes, or of watching mangy monkeys which have been taught to prostrate themselves Japanese fashion.

This letter is far too long, but to pass over Asakusa and its novelties when the impression of them is fresh would be to omit one of the most interesting sights in Japan. On the way back we passed red mail carts like those in London, a squadron of cavalry in European uniforms and with European saddles, and the carriage of the Minister of Marine, an English brougham with a pair of horses in English harness, and an escort of six troopers--a painful precaution adopted since the political assassination of Okubo, the Home Minister, three weeks ago. So the old and the new in this great city contrast with and jostle each other. The Mikado and his ministers, naval and military officers and men, the whole of the civil officials and the police, wear European clothes, as well as a number of dissipated-looking young men who aspire to represent "young Japan." Carriages and houses in English style, with carpets, chairs, and tables, are becoming increasingly numerous, and the bad taste which regulates the purchase of foreign furnishings is as marked as the good taste which everywhere presides over the adornment of the houses in purely Japanese style. Happily these expensive and unbecoming innovations have scarcely affected female dress, and some ladies who adopted our fashions have given them up because of their discomfort and manifold difficulties and complications.

The Empress on State occasions appears in scarlet satin hakama, and flowing robes, and she and the Court ladies invariably wear the national costume. I have only seen two ladies in European dress; and this was at a dinner-party here, and they were the wives of Mr. Mori, the go-ahead Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs, and of the Japanese Consul at Hong Kong; and both by long residence abroad have learned to wear it with ease. The wife of Saigo, the Minister of Education, called one day in an exquisite Japanese dress of dove-coloured silk crepe, with a pale pink under-dress of the same material, which showed a little at the neck and sleeves. Her girdle was of rich dove-coloured silk, with a ghost of a pale pink blossom hovering upon it here and there. She had no frills or fripperies of any description, or ornaments, except a single pin in her chignon, and, with a sweet and charming face, she looked as graceful and dignified in her Japanese costume as she would have looked exactly the reverse in ours. Their costume has one striking advantage over ours. A woman is perfectly CLOTHED if she has one garment and a girdle on, and perfectly DRESSED if she has two. There is a difference in features and expression--much exaggerated, however, by Japanese artists--between the faces of high-born women and those of the middle and lower classes. I decline to admire fat-faces, pug noses, thick lips, long eyes, turned up at the outer corners, and complexions which owe much to powder and paint. The habit of painting the lips with a reddish-yellow pigment, and of heavily powdering the face and throat with pearl powder, is a repulsive one. But it is hard to pronounce any unfavourable criticism on women who have so much kindly grace of manner. I. L. B.

LETTER VI

Fears--Travelling Equipments--Passports--Coolie Costume--A Yedo Diorama--Rice-Fields--Tea-Houses--A Traveller's Reception--The Inn at Kasukabe--Lack of Privacy--A Concourse of Noises--A Nocturnal Alarm--A Vision of Policemen--A Budget from Yedo.

KASUKABE, June 10.

From the date you will see that I have started on my long journey, though not upon the "unbeaten tracks" which I hope to take after leaving Nikko, and my first evening alone in the midst of this crowded Asian life is strange, almost fearful. I have suffered from nervousness all day--the fear of being frightened, of being rudely mobbed, as threatened by Mr. Campbell of Islay, of giving offence by transgressing the rules of Japanese politeness--of, I know not what! Ito is my sole reliance, and he may prove a "broken reed." I often wished to give up my project, but was ashamed of my cowardice when, on the best authority, I received assurances of its safety. {6}

The preparations were finished yesterday, and my outfit weighed 110 lbs., which, with Ito's weight of 90 lbs., is as much as can be carried by an average Japanese horse. My two painted wicker boxes lined with paper and with waterproof covers are convenient for the two sides of a pack-horse. I have a folding-chair--for in a Japanese house there is nothing but the floor to sit upon, and not even a solid wall to lean against--an air-pillow for kuruma travelling, an india-rubber bath, sheets, a blanket, and last, and more important than all else, a canvas stretcher on light poles, which can be put together in two minutes; and being 2.5 feet high is supposed to be secure from fleas. The "Food Question" has been solved by a modified rejection of all advice! I have only brought a small supply of Liebig's extract of meat, 4 lbs. of raisins, some chocolate, both for eating and drinking, and some brandy in case of need. I have my own Mexican saddle and bridle, a reasonable quantity of clothes, including a loose wrapper for wearing in the evenings, some candles, Mr. Brunton's large map of Japan, volumes of the Transactions of the English Asiatic Society, and Mr. Satow's Anglo-Japanese Dictionary. My travelling dress is a short costume of dust-coloured striped tweed, with strong laced boots of unblacked leather, and a Japanese hat, shaped like a large inverted bowl, of light bamboo plait, with a white cotton cover, and a very light frame inside, which fits round the brow and leaves a space of 1.5 inches between the hat and the head for the free circulation of air. It only weighs 2.5 ounces, and is infinitely to be preferred to a heavy pith helmet, and, light as it is, it protects the head


UNBEATEN TRACKS IN JAPAN - 6/58

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