Sunday, February 20, 2011

'The Japanese Empire' (Part Four Conclusion)

This is fourth and final part of the published excerpts of a lecture by S. Wells Williams delivered in Shanghai on October 26, 1858 to the Royal Asiatic Society. These were subsequently published in Honolulu’s Pacific Commercial Advertiser under the headline ‘The Japanese Empire’ in its March 22, 1860 edition. For the sake of historical authenticity original spellings featured have been retained.

The Japanese are a social people, and contrive to have many public festivals and holidays as well as private feasts and merry-making. Every town has its annual matsuri or patron saint day, at which the whole assist. The day of the worship of the graves is a grand occasion and if the night be pleasant, a beautiful sight is exhibited at such a place as Nagasaki, in the various fire-works and illuminated boats which are sent out to float away in the water.

It is one part of the polite education to learn how to send presents properly to different grades of people. Every present should be accompanied by a strip of dried fish or sea-weed enclosed in a piece of paper and tied loosely with a red and white string. The meaning of this has been explained by some, that the giver hopes that his friend is in good health and able to eat as usual; while others, with perhaps more reason, say it refers to the humble origin of the Japanese whose ancestors were simple fishermen. To omit this accompaniment of any occasion would be highly indecorous, as an incident will illustrate. The day before leaving Hakodadi, I was conversing with Yendo, the deputy bunglo, while waiting for a shopman to bring in some pictures on silk I had engaged of him. Yendo looked at them as I turned the parcel over to see if all was right, and seeing me about to pay for them, insisted on giving them to me as his parting remembrance, their cost being a mere trifle. I agreed to all the proposition, -but before he could or would hand them to me, he sent a servant to buy the usual sea-weed to accompany them.

Rice and fish form the staple articles of food with all classes. The former grows throughout the southern parts of the country, some of it upland rice, which does not need much water. Wheat, barley, buckwheat, and millet are also largely cultivated. Broccoli, sweet-potatoes, eggplant, ripe-cabbage, and other culinary vegetables increase the list of plants used as food. Everything from the sea or river, fish, shellfish, sea-weed, muscles, &c., are all eaten; indeed, fish is to a Japanese, what roast-beef is to an Englishman, or sauerkraut to a German; he regards it is necessary to a meal, and the seas around him bring it forth abundantly.

Tea and saki are their only beverages. The finer sorts of the former are described as equaling the best descriptions of Chinese leaf, and the plant grows in most parts of the southern islands; near Sinoda and Kanagawa it is a common hedge shrub. Saki is the native name for the spirits distilled from rice, and is like arrack or samshod, its taste not being very agreeable to those who are uninitiated. The best comes from Liwchew.

The dwellings of the Japanese are chiefly constructed of wood, unpainted and without chimneys or windows. They are built so that, in case of an earthquake, the outer frame-work and the inner partitions and moveable panels will fall as one mass and not crumble in beneath the roof; for in such a case the inmates could better escape fro under the ruins than from a mass of brick. The roofs of dwellings generally project beyond the walls, increasing the darkness of the rooms; they are of brick tiling, neatly laid in mortar and guttered; the eaves are furnished with troughs to collect the rain. Sliding panels, covered with thin paper, form the substitute for windows. Poor houses are covered with with a turf or straw thatch, about a foot in thickness, which renders them dangerous in case of fires; and this is a calamity which very often occurs in Japan. While one of the Dutch embassies was in Yeddo, a fire occurred which destroyed more than half of the city, and owed its ravages, in a great measure, to the number of these thick inflammable thatches.

The floors are raised about two feet above the ground, in common houses and shops, and are covered with mats, on which the family sleep, and by day carry on the business of the shop. No chairs, tables, bedsteads, couches, or any of the numerous articles of furniture which fill up apartments in western lands are seen in them. They are warmed by braziers, placed in the middle of the room, filled with burning coal or charcoal.

When Commodore Perry gave to the Japanese Commissioners, at Yokohama, the various presents which had been intrusted to him by the American Government, he told them that among the return presents he would be happy to receive the entire furniture of a room, in order that he might fit up an apartment in the White House in good Japanese style. The assented, and when their articles in exchange were brought in, showed him a pile of a hundred fine mats as the fulfillment of his wish.

These mats are kept scrumptiously clean, all being cheap are easily renewed when worn out. The remarkable cleanliness of the Japanese is somewhat to be ascribed to their usage of sitting on the floor, for it must be kept tidy, if it is to serve successfully, for table, bed, and parlor, during every twenty-four hours, or else the house would soon become intolerable. The habit of leaving the sandals at the door and shaking the feet clean before stepping on the mats, promotes general cleanliness. The contrast between the appearance of Nagasaki and Shanghai, in this respect, must be seen to be fully understood.

In the rear of the house there is usually a courtyard, where a few plants in pots, a pond for gold fish, a tree or two, and sometimes a shrine for an idol, are all neatly arranged, pleasantly exhibiting the taste of the homeholders. Near the house, in which the headman of Yokohama lived, there was a pretty ornament of a crafted fir and pine tree, which had been dwarfed and trained to spread over the ground, for a rod or more, , a few feet above it and covering a little fish pond. Many year careful culture had been expended to bring it to that condition. A mile or two from it, was another larger tree, a pine, which had been trained to form an umbrella-like arbor on the bank of a rivulet; it was near a hamlet whose inhabitants could thus refresh themselves in the heat of the day, and evidently did so from the seats placed underneath its shade. The top of this tree was as nearly level as possible and measured over 200 square feet.

The streets in Japanese towns are wider than in Chinese. In Nagasaki, the gutters run underneath a granite pavement in the center, each side being more of a composition exceedingly hard and smooth. Other streets are made like macadamized roads, but not so hard. In Hakodadi the streets are nearly all made in this way. Many of them in both places are swept and watered almost daily. In all towns substantial wood gates divide the streets into neighborhoods from each other, and near them are the police stations. These gates, among other cases, prevent the rush or the assemblage of crowds and mobs, and thus assist the authorities in maintaining order. Near them are to be seen charms and prayers of various sorts, exhibiting the superstition of the people. It was remarked that in Simoda, the things which we did not see made a curious catalogue, as showing its contrast with American towns. There were no bricks, no window-glass, the fire-places, no pigs, no sheep, and no beggars, -the last item being the most surprising of all after seeing their numbers wherever one goes in China.

'The Japanese Empire' (Part Three)

This is third part of the published excerpts of a lecture by S. Wells Williams delivered in Shanghai on October 26, 1858 to the Royal Asiatic Society. These were subsequently published in Honolulu’s Pacific Commercial Advertiser under the headline ‘The Japanese Empire’ in its March 22, 1860 edition. For the sake of historical authenticity original spellings featured have been retained.

The princes, commonly called rono-sama, differ in their rank and power, and have little authority out of their own principalities. Those of Kaga and Satsuma are now among the most powerful, but all of these were so reduced in 1600 by Taiko-sama, that they have never since attempted to throw off the control of the siogoun, nor is mention made of any internal broils resulting in actual hostilities. They were then obliged to conform to an order to spend half the year at Yeddo, and the periods were so arranged that adjacent principalities seldom enjoy the presence of their own rulers at the same time. The same system of surveillance is in force in all these petty palatinates, (as they might be called,) and the siogoun has also his own spies, who in some of them are exposed to risk in exercising their functions. In Satsuma it is said to be not very safe to be an imperial spy.

There are eight hereditary classes recognized in Japanese society, three of them can wear swords, viz., daimio and sai-uno, who are the princes; the hi-min or the noblemen; and the samurai or military men. Those who are called princes, in the treaties, are merely kani, or titular noblemen, raised to that honor by the siogoun or entitled to it by birth, and having no territory. Judging by the characters used for their titles, the term marquts, i.e., a guardian of the marches, is much nearer to the rank than prince, which last appellation corresponds better to the meaning of sama.

The priests, gentry, merchants, artisans, and serfs constitute the remaining classes, except tanners, who are regarded as outcasts and obliged to live on the outskirts of towns. The principle on hereditary descent runs through Japanese society more completely perhaps than any other country; though not to the extent, probably, which has been stated, viz., that no man can ever follow any other occupation than that of his ancestors.

The dress of the Japanese of both sexes is very simple, consisting chiefly of long robes like nightgowns, worn one over the other. In summer the laboring men go as nearly naked as decency permits, and the women generally uncovered down to the waist. The material of apparel is usually cotton, the rich wear crape and other silk, some of them of very fine texture. The men shave the top of their heads almost daily, tying the hair on the crown into a queue, an inch or two long. The socks of both sexes have a separate place for the great toe, in order to allow it to close upon the clasp which retiss the straw sandal on the feet. Leggings are worn, but no trowsers. Large girdles confine the gowns, -and a capacious bosom is thus made, in which the wearer carries a variety of articles. In other cases, the mouth of the wide sleeves are sewed half way, so as to form a pocket, in which light things are placed, and a reservoir for the nose-papers which are used instead of handkerchiefs.

The common dress of females is confined by a broad girdle on the outside, which is tied behind in an immense knot. Their hair is bound up in a tuft on the back of the head, somewhat like that of Chinese women; in front its jet black color is relieved by by gay hairpins of silver or glass, by a flower, or by a bow of crimson or blue crape. A dozen or more of these hairpins are sometimes stuck in sideways, giving the head a strange bristling aspect. On the birth of a child a married woman shaves her eyebrows and blackens her teeth, -a custom, though not so painful and discomposing as the Chinese fashion of crippling the feet, is more repulsive to a stranger and disfigures their faces in a way that must be seen to appreciated.

Their marriage ceremonies resemble those of China in many particulars, such as the employment of a go-between to arrange the match, the worship of ancestral tablets, &c. The sexes are not separated to the degree known in China; but I do not think that the relative position or influence of females is higher than it is among the Chinese. Polygamy is legal in both countries, and its consequences are the same. Instruction in embroidery, and other kinds of needlework, skill in playing on the shamisen or guitar, and singing, with book learning enough to enable them to write a letter or cast up an account seem to be their principle accomplishments. The most educated women of the common people are said to be courtesans, who are however, often honorably married.

At the marriage ceremony a singular contrast to our own ideas as to the meaning of the same dress is noticeable; the bride is nearly concealed in a white robe, which is among these islanders emblematical of her shroud, meaning that she henceforth is dead to her own ancestors and has become incorporated with the family of her husband.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

'The Japanese Empire' (Part Two)

This is second part of the published excerpts of a lecture by S. Wells Williams delivered in Shanghai on October 26, 1858 to the Royal Asiatic Society. These were subsequently published in Honolulu’s Pacific Commercial Advertiser under the headline ‘The Japanese Empire’ in its March 22, 1860 edition. For the sake of historical authenticity original spellings featured have been retained.

The government of such a people as the Japanese presents a very interesting topic of inquiry to us, owing in a great measure to their isolation, and the persuasion that every feature is of native growth, modified slightly if at all by the institutions of other countries. Like that of the early Chinese dynasties, it took the form of a feudal monarchy, there being an emperor, supposed to be of divine origin, and sixty-six princes, each acknowledging him as their sovereign, but retaining the power over their dominions. Of these sixty-six principalities, five were the peculiar possession of the emperor, the remainder were grouped into seven do, or circuits, but no general authority over the do seems ever to have existed. In process of time, and in consequence of the decay of imperial power and course of revolutions, the pure feudal form of government became modified, and the authority centralized at Yeddo in the person of a lieutenant-general or lord high constable. From him it has since gradually passed into the hands of a council. The government might be called now a feudal monarchy, or federal oligarchy, according as we ascribe the real power to the Siogoun or to the council, though it still retains many of its characteristics, that it is undoubtedly the most feudal government on earth. The semi-independent princes retain much power in their own fiefs, while the interest of each in the politics of the whole empire is made safe by the sense of security from attacks by his neighbors, or of absorption by the sate.

The earliest monarch dates B.C. 667, and there have been 126 sovereigns up to the present one, who began to reign in 1853, some of them have been females. His court is at Miyako, (a word which means the capital, like king or tu in Chinese,) a large city near the center of Nippon, about forty miles from Ohosaka. He is regarded as the descendant of the Sub-Goddess, though he does not arrogate such odolatrous titles as his compeer at Peking. His common titles are mikado, a term analogous to the ‘Lord of the world,’ and dairi, which corresponds to our word “court.” He is often called the spiritual emperor, in distinction from the siogoun, who has been styled the temporal emperor, but both these terms convey erroneous ideas, when used in this connection.

In the eyes of the Japanese, though his power is reduced to a cipher, he is still their emperor de jure, and his sanction is necessary to legalize certain acts in religion, etiquette and succession. His court is now the abode of a large number of titular officers, whose pursuits are of a literary character, and give an air of refinement to their society. The arts and manufactures are carried to a high degree of excellence in this region, and many articles are described as of Miyako work to show their superiority, even though they may not be actually made there. The siogoun has his agent at the city, and the Mikado also sends a yearly envoy to Yeddo in return for the same compliment paid to him.

The office of siogoun (in Chinese tsiang lien, or commander in chief) was known in ancient times, and in its duties corresponded to the maire du palais of the early French kings; but it was in A.D. 1286, that Yoritomo, then holding the office, made himself independent of the emperor as Pepin d’Heristel had done in Paris six centuries previously, and established his court at Yeddo. This title is still retained, but the more common appellations are cuo-saipa, which means “Lord of the Palace,” and tenha-sama, of “Lord of the Empire.” In the treaties lately negotiated he is called Ti-goun, or Tycoon, i.e., Great Ruler, an appellative, which may be of recent origin.

The power and titles of the siogoun became hereditary in the family of Yoritomo, and the influence of the mikado gradually diminished during the next three hundred years. In the latter part of the 16th century, a man known afterwards as Taikosama, arose, who by his talents and prowess overthrew the family of Yoritomo, completely subduing all opposition of the emperor and princes, and engrossed the sovereignty in his own person, though he allowed them to retain their titles and fiefs. He consolidated his power in 1603, but was unable to bequeath it to his son, for his coadjutor and intimate friend, Iyeyhsu, whom he made guardian of this youth, usurped the station, and founded the present family of the siogoun, taking the title of Gongihb. With him the present system of government commenced, and in its prominent features has been maintained to the present day; though by reason of the inherent weakness of the hereditary power, dependent entirely on personal character, much of the real authority has slipped away from the hands of the siogoun into the grasp of his council, and he is now little more than a function in the state, like the Mikado, an effigy rather than a reality.

This council is composed of thirteen members, five of whom are chief ministers, and eight of secondary rank. At the formation of the council in 1603, they consisted of the friends of Taikosama, and the dignity has since remained in their families. In this we see a resemblance to the council which Darius Hystaspes formed of his friends; but in the functions and power of the Japanese council, there is perhaps more similarity to the Venetian senate. It has a president, who carries on the government while he holds that post; he is responsible to the council for his acts, and for carrying out its orders. It perpetuates itself –a feature in its organization which accounts for the energy, and partly for the equity of its courses during these last two centuries. The members have each a department, whose duties are performed according to the prescribed code.

Laws are enacted or changed by the Council, and the result submitted to the siogoun, who like the king or queen of England, in most cases ratifies the decisions of the councilors. If, however, he vetoes their enactments, the question is not sent back to them nor is it dropped, but is referred to his three nearest relations, one of whom is the heir apparent. If they sustain him, the councilors must resign in disgrace, or commit suicide, which is supposed to save their character from disgrace; if they disagree with him he abdicates his seat, and one report says, sometimes puts an end to himself.

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...