The Pier at Yokohama-The Flower-People-A Celestial Suburb-French Cooking and Frock Coats-From a Car- Window- Elfin Gardens-"The Land of Little Children"THE satisfying thing about Japan is that it always looks exactly like Japan. It could not possibly be any other place. The gulls are Japanese gulls, the hills are Japanese hills, Tokyo Bay is a Japanese bay, and if the steamers anchored off the port of Yokohama are not all of them Japanese, many of them have, at least, an exotic look, with their preposterously fat red funnels or their slender blue ones. Even the little launches from which the port authorities board you as you lie in the harbour are not quite like the launches seen elsewhere, and though the great stone pier, to which at last you are warped in, might of itself fit the picture of a British seaport, the women and children waiting on the pier, trotting along beside the ship as she moves slowly to her berth, waving and smiling up at friends on deck, are costumed in inevitable suggestion of great brilliant flowergardens agitated by the wind. Amongst these women and children in their bright draperies, the dingy European dress of the male is almost lost, so that, for all its pantaloons and derby hats, Japan is still Japan.
Through this garden of chattering, laughing, fluttering human flowers we made our way to-score one for New Japan-a limousine, and in this vehicle were whirled off through the crowd: a jumble of blue-clad coolies wearing wide mushroom hats and the insignia of their employers stamped upon their backs, of rickshas, and touring cars, and motortrucks, and skirted schoolboys riding bicycles, and curious little drays with tiny wheels, drawn by shaggy little horses which are always led, and which, when left to stand, have their front legs roped. Over a bridge we went, above the peaked rice-straw awnings of countless wooden cargo boats; then up a narrow road, surfaced with brown sand, between rows of delightful little wooden houses, terraced one above the other, with fences of board or bamboo only partly concealing infinitesimal gardens, and sliding front doors of paper and woodlattice, some of which, pushed back, revealed strawmatted floors within, with perhaps more flower-like women and children looking out at us-.the women and the larger children having babies tied to their backs. By some of the doors stood pots containing dwarf trees or flowering shrubs, by others were hung light wooden birdcages from which a snatch of song would come, and in front of every door was a low flat stone on which stood rows of little wooden clogs. Dogs of breeds unknown to me sat placidly before their masters' doors-brown dogs to match the houses, black and white dogs, none of them very large, all of them plump and benignant in expression. Not one of them left its place to run and bark at our car. They were the politest dogs I have ever seen. They simply sat upon their haunches, smiling. And the women smiled, and the children smiled, and the cherry blossoms smiled from branches overhead, and the sun smiled through them, casting over the brown roadway and brown houses and brown people a lovely splattering of light and shadow.
And what with all these things, and a glimpse of a torii and a shrine, and the musical sound of scraping wooden clogs upon the pavement and the faint pervasive fragrance, suggesting blended odours of new pine wood, incense, and spice-which is to me the smell of Japan; though hostile critics will be quick to remind me of the odour of paddy fields -what with all these sights and sounds and smells, so alluring and antipodal, I began to think we must be motoring through a celestial suburb, toward the gates of Paradise itself.
But instead of climbing onward up the hill to heaven we swung off through a garden blooming with azaleas white, purple, pink, and salmon-colour, and drew up at a pleasant clubhouse. There we had luncheon; and it is worth remarking that, though prepared by Japanese, both the menu and the cooking were in faultless French. The Japanese gentlemen at this club were financiers, officials and prominent business men of Yokohama. One or two of them wore the graceful and dignified hakama and haori-the silk skirt and coat of formal native dress-but by far the larger number were habited in European style: some of the younger men in cutaways, but the majority in frock-coats, garments still widely favoured in Japan, as are also congress gaiter shoes-a most convenient style of footwear in a land where shoes are shed on entering a house.
Luncheon over, we drove to the station of the electric railroad that parallels the steam railroad from the seaport to the capital-which, by the way, will itself become a seaport when the proposed channel has been dredged up Tokyo Bay, now navigable only by small boats.
From the car window we continued our observations as we rushed along. The gage of the steam railway is narrower than that of railways in America and Europe; the locomotives resemble European locomotives and the cars are small and light by comparison with ours. The engine whistles are shrill, and instead of two men, three are carried in each cab. This we shall presently discover, is characteristic of Japan. They employ more people than we do on a given piece of work-a discovery rather surprising after all that we have heard of Japanese efficiency. But Japan's reputation for efficiency is after all based largely on her military exploits. Perhaps her army is efficient. Perhaps her navy is. Certainly the discipline and service on the Kashima Maru would bear comparison with those on a first-rate English ship. Yet why three men on a locomotive? Why several conductors on a street car? Why three servants in an ordinary middle-class home which in America or Europe would be run by one or two? Why fifteen servants in a house which we would run with six or eight? Why so many motor cars with an assistant sitting on the seat beside the chauffeur? Why so few motors? Why men and women drawing heavy carts that might so much better be drawn by horses or propelled by gasolene? Why these ill-paved narrow roads? Why this watering of streets with dippers or with little hand-carts pulled by men? Why a dozen or more coolies operating a handdriven pile-driver, lifting the weight with ropes, when two men and a little steam would do the work so much faster and better? Why, for the matter of that, these delightful rickshas which some jester of an earlier age dubbed "pull-man" cars? Why this waste of labour everywhere?
Can it be that in this densely populated little country there are more willing hands than there is work for willing hands to do? Must work be spread thin in order to provide a task and a living for everyone? But again, if that was it, would people work as hard as these people seem to? Would women be at work beside their husbands, digging knee deep in the mud and water of the rice fields, dragging heavy-laden carts, handling bulky boats? And would the working hours be so long? Here is something to be looked into. But not now.
It is a hand-embroidered country, Japan, though the embroidery is done in fine stitches of an un- familiar kind. The rural landscape is so formed and trimmed and cultivated that sometimes it achieves the look of a lovely little garden, just as the English landscape sometimes has the look of a great park. Here, much more than in England, every available inch of land is put to use. Where hillsides are so steep that they would wash away if not protected, tidy walls of diamond-shaped stone are laid dry against them; but whenever possible the hillsides are terraced up in a way to remind one of vineyards along the Rhine and the Moselle, making a series of shelf-like little fields, each doing its utmost to help solve the food problem.
It is hard to say whether the towns along this line of railroad are separated by groups of farms, or whether the groups of farms are separated by towns, so even is the division. The farms are very small so that the open country is dotted over with little houses-the same low dainty houses of wood and paper that delighted us when we first saw them, and which will always delight us when, from the other side of the world, we think of them. For there is something in the sight of a neat little Japanese house with its few feet of garden which appeals curiously to one's imagination and one's sentiment. It is all so light and lovely, yet all so carefully contrived, so highly finished. To the Western eye- at least to mine-it has a quality of fantasy. I feel that it cannot be quite real, and that the people who live in it cannot be quite real: that they are part-say a quarter-fairy. And I ask you: who but people having in their veins at least a little fairy blood would take the trouble to plant a row of iris along the ridges of their roofs?
The houses, too, are often set in elfin situations. One will stand at the crest of a little precipice with a minute table-land of garden back of it; another will nestle, half concealed, in a small sheltered basin where it seems to have grown from the ground, along with the trees and shrubbery surrounding it-the flowering hedges and the pines with branches like extended arms in drooping green kimono sleeves; still another rises at the border of a pond so small that in a land less toylike it would hardly be a pond; yet here it is adorned with grotesquely lovely rocks and overhanging leaves and blooms, and in the middle of it, like as not, will be an island hardly larger than a cartwheel, and on that island a stone lantern with a mushroom top, and reaching to it from the shore a delicate arched bridge of wood beneath which drowsy carp and goldfish cruise, with trailing fins and rolling ruminaitive eyes.
Just as one better understands Hokusai and Hiroshige for having seen the coastal hills, one understands them better for having seen these magic little houses with their settings resembling so charmingly those miniature landscapes made with moss, gravel, small rocks, and dwarf trees, arranged in china basins by a Japanese gardener, who is sometimes so kind as to let us see his productions in a window on Fifth Avenue. Often one feels that Japan herself is hardly more than such a garden on a larger scale. Over and over again one encounters in the larger, the finish and fantastic beauty of the smaller garden. And when one does encounter it, one is happy to forget the politics and problems of Japan, and to think of the whole country as a curiously perfect table decoration for the parlour of the world.
And the children! Children everywhere! Children of the children Kipling wrote of thirty years ago, when he called Japan
". . . the land of Little Children, where the Babies are the Kings."Of course we had heard about the children. Everyone who writes about Japan, or comes home and talks about Japan, tells you about them. Yet somehow you must witness the phenomenon before you grasp the fact of their astonishing profusion. Even the statistics, showing that the population of Japan increases at the rate of from 400,000 to 700,000 every year, don't begin to make the picture, though they do make apparent the fact that there tire several million children of ten years or younger -about two thirds of whom go clattering about in wooden clogs, while the remainder ride on the backs of their parents and grandparents and brothers and sisters. All in a country smaller than the State of California.
Children alone, children in groups of three or four, children in dozen lots. Children in all sizes, colourings, attitudes, and conditions. Children blocking the roads, playing under the trees or in them, romping along paths, swarming over little piles of earth like bees on bell-shaped hives. Children watching the passing cars, children in tiny skiffs, children wading in ponds. Children glimpsed through the open wood and paper shoji of their matchbox houses, scampering on clean matted floors or placidly supping-the larger of them squatting before trays and operating nimble chopsticks, the smaller nursing at the mother's breast. (Sometimes those children nursed at the breast are not so very small-which is the reason why so many Japanese have over-prominent teeth.) Children brown and naked, ragged children, children in indigo or in bright flowered kimonos and white aprons. Demure children, wild rampageous. children, children with shaved heads, children with jetblack manes bobbing about their ears and faces as they run. Chubby children with merry eyes and cheeks like rosy russet apples. Children achieving the impossible: delighting the eye despite their dirty little noses.
Can it be that they pile the children on each others' backs, making two layers of them, because there isn't room upon the ground for all of them at once? Babies riding on their mothers' backs travel in comparative dignity and safety. Under their soft little mushroom hats they sleep through many things-street-car trips, shopping expeditions and gabbling parties in the tea-rooms of department stores. But those who ride the shoulders of their elder brothers lead lives of wild adventure. Their presence is not allowed to interfere with the progress of young masculine life. The brother will climb trees, walk on stilts and even play baseball, seemingly unconscious of the weight and the fragility of the little charge attached to him by ties of blood and cotton. If the drowsy baby head drops over, getting in the way, the brother alters its position with a bump from the back of his own head. When the small rider slips down too far, whether on the back of child or adult, its bearer stoops and bucks like a broncho, tossing baby into place again. Through all of which the infant generally sleeps. Are its dreams disturbed, one wonders, when big brother slides for second-base? I doubt it. Knowing no cradle, no easy-riding baby carriage, the Japanese baby is from the first accustomed to a life of action. It seems to be a fatalist. And indeed it would appear that some special god protects the baby, for it always seems to go unscathed.
Sometimes in the streets the children outnumber their elders by two or three to one. Contemplating them one can easily fall into the way of looking upon adults as mere adjuncts, existing only to wash the children, see that they wear aprons, and give them their meals.