Tuesday, August 3, 2010

City of Yeddo, 1860: “…magnificent in that nature which the Japanese have contrived to presume in the midst of so much art ..."

The same article also quotes another American newspaper source, though that source is not specified:

“Unlike to Pekin, Yeddo is not surrounded by walls; no magnificent gate-ways open their massive doors; no nine-story towers rise and frown above them; and no bastion and parapets upon the walls with cannon peering through the embrasures, or mounted above them, reminds the stranger as he approaches the city, that its happy people ever understood the art of war, or that he lives in a world where it was ever known.

“Ascending the flight of steps, and standing in the front street, and gazing upon what meets the eye as it turns in different directions, the first feeling is that of disappointment –the houses are so unlike in size and elegance, to what we expected to find them; and the second feeling is that of utter bewilderment, as he sees everywhere tall trees and groves and a thick undergrowth, while hills rise here and there of a considerable size and elevation, all shrouded in a mass of luxuriant vegetation –hills as rural and rough as any to be seen in a country town in New England and New York, which the human foot seems never to have approached, or the hand to have touched.

“I was in the midst of a city larger in territory and population than London, and yet seemed to be in a forest! That feeling is the one first awakened, and wander where one will, and as long as he will, it is only deepened; and in my case at least, made the more delicious. It is a law, or custom, which amounts to the same thing with the Japanese, that every man is bound to leave on his grounds as many trees as he found, and if he cuts one down, to plant another in its place. Hence the forest city. Some groves covered acres, while in other places, however thick the trees were planted, and deep the shade they cast, among them were to be seen neat houses, and fine gardens, and the most elegant shrubs dwarfed, and their branches trimmed in a most fanciful form.

“The distance from the landing or Front street to the house occupied by Mr. Harris is said to be two miles and a half. Commodore Tatnall and his Flag-Lieutenant, took a single norimon, a sort of chair like a box, with mats or cushions on the bottom, and suspended from a beam which rests on the shoulders of two or four men, as circumstances may require.

“As for myself I chose to walk and see, however the rain poured; and crossing the street to street, all of which cross at right angles, wandering amidst groves, looking into the shops which line the streets, and filled with curiosities of Japanese art, jostling amidst the crowds, but always pushing onwards, we reached the height of a considerable hill, when there instantly burst upon the eye the imperial castle, the massive and vast palaces of the Daimions, or great princes of the empire, all located outside of the walls of the imperial castle, while the temples crowned the height of the hills amidst the solemn shade of trees, and groves were seen like native forests in other directions, and a considerable river slowly wound its way in another, and wide streets stretched away in straight lines beyond the reach of the eye. At once all the first impressions was effaced, and I felt that I was in the midst of an immense and magnificent city –magnificent, not in splendid houses and palaces, and stores, and paved streets, and public works of art like Paris and Rome, and London, but magnificent in that nature which the Japanese have contrived to presume in the midst of so much art and such an immense population.”

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