Monday, February 14, 2011

'The Japanese Empire' (Part One)

Four days after the departure of the U.S.S. Powhatan from Honolulu with the Japanese Embassy for San Francisco the Pacific Commercial Advertiser published the following description of the Japanese Empire. Referring to it as, “one of the most interesting accounts of Japan that we have ever read,” the text was from a lecture by S. Wells Williams delivered to the Royal Asiatic Society in Shanghai. The lecture was delivered on October 26, 1858, and subsequently published in the Society’s Journal. Here is a link to Williams' other publications available online.

The editors of the Pacific Commercial Advertiser excerpted sections of this lecture for Honolulu’s readers. I have transcribed the entire column. I will post in four sections. For the sake of historical authenticity original spellings featured have been retained.

The Japanese Empire

Source: Pacific Commercial Advertiser. Honolulu: March 22, 1860, Page 1, Col. 1., and Page 4.

During the stay of the Powhatan in our harbor, we were favored with the perusal of a number from the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, in which is contained one of the most interesting accounts of Japan that we have ever read. It was a lecture delivered in Shanghai, October 26, 1858, before that Society, by Mr. S. Wells Williams. We transfer to our columns a part of this lecture:

The Empire of Japan, as it comes to us, is of Chinese origin, and in its meaning is identical with Nippon, the native name of the largest island in the group; the word means “Sun’s Origin,” or the Dayspring; the people themselves, however, do not recognize the word “Japan.” The other two islands Kisiu, i.e., the Nine Departments, and Sikok, or the Four Kingdoms, lie south of it. The area of all that the Japanese claim is estimated by Siebold at 185,235 square miles, of which the three principal islands measure 115,801 square miles.

It will enable us to form a better idea of the Japanese empire if we compare it with some other countries in the world. Its position, as you are aware, is in that line of islands which outlies this great continent on its eastern shore, stretching from Kamtshatka along through the islands of Karafto, Yeso, Nippon, Kiusiu, Formosa, Luzon, and thence, down to New Holland. The Japanese empire includes all between Formosa and Karafto; and by a recent arrangement with the Chinese or Russians, its border passes so as to include the southern third of this last-named island. There are four large islands in the kingdom, viz., Nippon, Kiusiu, Sikok and Yeso, and, as the Japanese reckon, over three thousand small ones and islets. The three first named are inhabited entirely by the Japanese, but the Anios still occupy a large part of Yeso.

The ports which have recently been, or are to be, opened to foreign residence and commerce are Yeddo, Simoda, Ohosaka, Nagasaki and Hakodadi. Yeddo (it should not be written Jeddo) lioes at the south-eastern part of Nippon, nearly on the latitude of Naples, at the head of a fine large bay. The name means River’s door; and by those who have means of knowing, the city is reckoned to contain two and a half millions of inhabitants. Peking is estimated, on good authority too, to be equally as large and as populous; this will place Yeddo, Peking and London, in point of population, far in advance of all other cities in the world. Yeddo is the center of everything which is desirable in the eyes of a Japanese, far more than Peking is to a Chinese, or perhaps even than Paris is to a Frenchman, or Berlin to a Prussian; luxury, arts, power, and amusements all are found there in their highest degree.

Simoda (i.e., the Lower Field) is a town of about 7000 inhabitants, lying near the entrance to the bay of Yeddo.

Ohosaka (i.e., Great Board) is situated nearly half way between Simoda and Nagasaki; it is one of the largest cities in the empire, and the entrepot of Miyako, but has not yet been visited by any foreign ships.

Nagasaki lies at the south-western extremity of the country in Kiusiu, and has long been associated in our minds with Japan, as Canton used to be with China, -a place where a few merchants were willing to submit to almost any indignation and privation for the sake of gain. It lies nearly on the same latitude and Nanking, Malta and Norfolk; is beautifully situated at the extremity of a safe harbor; and contains over 60,000 inhabitants. The name means Long Cape, given to it from the point of land stretching south of it.

Hakodadi is in the island of Yeso, and has been the resort of many whalers since it was opened to them in 1855. Its name means Box Shop, perhaps from its position as the entrepot of most of the trade of that island.

The surface of Japan is rough, and no contrast in scenery can be greater than is presented when one leaves the flat region of Shanghai and crosses over to the bold headlands of Nagasaki. It is probable that this town may by and by become a arbitarium for the residents here in Shanghai.

The most striking object in the whole country is the ancient volcano of Fusi, which rises in a regular cone to the height of nearly 17,800 feet, or about the same as Ararat, and is visible from the city and bay of Yeddo. Its top is bare in summer, and no eruption has occurred for ages. This magnificent mountain forms a favorite subject for embellishing the wares of the Japanese, and identifies articles with that country.

Another volcano, about 3,500 feet high, still in action, and well-known in the annals of the nation as the scene of the sufferings of the Christians, is Uzen-daki, visible from Nagasaki. An eruption of this volcano in 1792 desolated the country at its foot, and destroyed over 53,000 inhabitants. Nor should the beautiful cone of Kamon-daga, at the entrance of the bay of Kagojuma, southeast of Nagasaki, be overlooked, for when once seen it is always remembered.

Siebold reckons the population of Japan at thirty-five millions, but judging from comparisons with other countries, I am not inclined to put it higher then eighteen or twenty millions. The enumeration of the people is carefully made in each principality, but no one has the power to demand the several censuses and combine them into one satisfactory table. The northern part of Nippon, in the principalities of Dewa and Mutsu, is rough and sterile, and cannot support half the number of people that the fertile valleys of Kiusiu easily maintain. By the help of these facts and comparisons we can form a reasonable conclusion respecting the total census.

The greatest part of the inhabitants of Japan are agriculturalists, and in a genial, healthy climate encourages them in their tillage by developing the fertility of the soil. The extent to which terracing is carried, is almost unequaled in other parts of the world; and no one who visits the neighborhood of Simoda or Nagasaki can restrain his admiration at the natural beauty of scenery, ornamented and improved by the careful culture of the farmer, or cease to wonder at the labor to which he has expended in terracing the hill-sides.

The rate of wages of the day laborer in the workshop or on the farm is about the same as in China, -twelve cents or a sixpence per day, -and his condition in the two countries does not materially differ. As an index of their security, it may be remarked that their farmsteads and hamlets are scattered over the country, not always clustered in large villages.

NEXT: The Empire of Japan and its government...

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