Quakes and the Building Problem-Big Quake-Democracy in Architecture-Narrow Streets and Tiny Shops-The Majestic Little Policeman-The Dread of Burglars-What to Do in a Quake-The Man Who Went Home-"Fire!"-A Ricksha Ride to the Wrong Address-A Front-Porch BathHAVE I given the impression that Tokyo is a disappointing city to one in search of things purely Japanese? If so it was because I tarried too long in the district of railroad stations and big business. Moreover, to the practical commercial eye, this portion of the city must look promising indeed, because of the wide streets and the new building going on. And it is building of a kind to be approved by the man of commerce, for in her new edifices Tokyo is adopting steelframe construction.
That she is only now beginning to build in this way is not due to inertia, but to the fact that earthquakes complicate her building problem. The tallest of her present office buildings is, I believe, but seven stories high, and I have heard that twice as much steel was employed in its construction as would have been employed in a similar building where earthquakes did not enter into the calculations of the architect.
It would be difficult to overestimate the part that earthquakes play in establishing the character of Japanese cities. There will never be skyscrapers in Japan, or apartment buildings with families piled high in air. The family, not the individual, is the social unit of the land, and the private house is the symbol of the family. Even in the congested slums of Japanese cities, or in the quarters given over to the pitiful outcast class called eta, each family has its house, though the house may consist only of a single room no larger than a woodshed and may harbour an appalling number of people, as miserable and as crowded as those of the poorest slums in the United States.
Though the seismograph records an average of about four earthquakes a day, most of the shocks are too slight to be felt. Tokyo is however, conscious of about fifty shocks a year. But she has not had a destructive earthquake since 1894, nor a great disaster since 1855, when most of the city was shaken down or burned, and 100,000 persons perished.
Minor shocks receive but little attention. In fact by many they are regarded with favour, on the assumption that they tend to reduce pressure in the boiler-room, preventing savage visitations. However, these do occasionally occur and on the seacoast they are sometimes accompanied by tidal waves which ravage long stretches of shore, wiping out towns and villages.
Earthquake shocks are sometimes accompanied by terrifying subterranean sounds. Scientists have their ways of accounting for all these things, but the man who really knows is the old peasant of the seacoast village. He can tell you what really causes the earth to tremble. It is the wrigglings of a pair of giant fish called Namazu, whiskered creatures somewhat resembling catfish, which inhabit the bowels of the earth and support upon their backs the Islands of Japan.
Even though the quakes are slight, they serve to keep in people's minds certain unpleasant possibilities; and these possibilities are, as I have said, acknowledged in the structure of Japanese houses. Two stories is the maximum Height for a residence, and even tea-houses and hotels are seldom more than three stories high. This, together with the fact that everyone who can afford it has a garden, causes Japanese cities to spread enormously.
On the other hand, the Japanese requires fewer rooms than we do; his home life is simple and he is less a slave to his possessions than any other civilized human being. The average family can move its household goods in a hand-cart. Even the houses of the rich are not blatant except in a few cases in which florid European architecture has been attempted. The difference between the houses of the rich and of the poor is in degree, not in kind. As with the Japanese costume, the essential lines do not vary.
This democracy in architecture is restful to the eye and to the senses. It gives the streets of Tokyo -excepting the important thoroughfares-a sort of small-town look. Nor is a great metropolis suggested by the old narrow streets, with their bazaar-like open shop fronts, their banner-like awnings of blue and white, and their colourful displays of fish, fresh vegetables, fruits, wooden clogs, curios, and many other objects less definable, the possible uses of which entice the alien wayfarer to speculation or investigation.
I never got enough of prowling in the narrow streets of Tokyo, staring into shops (and sometimes, I fear, into houses), watching various artisans carrying on home industries, wondering what were the legends displayed in (Chinese characters on awnings, banners and lacquered signs; stumbling now upon an ancient wayside shrine, now upon a shop full of " two-and-ahalf-puff pipes," tobacco pouches for the male and female users of such pipes, and netsuke (large buttons for attaching pipe-cases and pouches to the sash) carved in delightfully fantastic forms; now upon a tea-shop full of tall coloured earthenware urns, shaped like the amphoræ of ancient Rome and marked with baffling black ideographs. Now I would discover a tea-house on the brink of a stream, its balconies abloom with little geisha, its portals protected from impurity by three small piles of salt; now it would be a geisha quarter I was in, and I would hear the drum and flute and samisen; or again I would discover a little shop with Japanese prints for sale, and would enter and drink green tea with the silk-robed proprietor, bagging the knees of my trousers and cramping my legs by squatting for an hour to look at his wares.
Heavy wheeled traffic was not contemplated when the narrow streets of Tokyo were laid out. From the most attenuated of them, automobiles and carriages are automatically excluded by their size, while from others they are excluded by the policeman who inhabits the white kiosk on the corner. The policeman has discretionary power, and if you have good reason for wishing to drive down a narrow street he will sometimes let you do so, granting the permission coldly. He is a majestic little figure. He wears a sword and is treated as a personage.
Naturally, the first consideration in the construction of a Japanese house is flexibility. In an earthquake a house should sway. Earthquakes are thus responsible for the general use of wood, which is in turn responsible for the frequency of fires. And next to earthquakes, fires are regarded by the Japanese as their greatest menace.
Third on the list of things feared and abhorred comes the burglar. I doubt that there are more burglars in Japan than elsewhere, or that the Japanese burglar is more murderous than the average gentleman of his profession in other lands, but for some reason he is more thought about. This may be because of the vicious knife he carries, or it may be because Japanese houses are so easy to get into. In the daytime one would only have to push a hand through the paper shoji and undo the catch-which is about as strong as a hairpin. At night one might need a cigar-box opener. At all events, it is for fear of burglars that the Japanese householder barricades himself, after dark, behind a layer of unperforated wooden shutters, which are slid into place in grooves outside those in which the shoji slide. If the shutters keep out burglars they also keep out air; and even though you may be willing to risk the entrance of the former with the latter, the police will not permit you to leave your shutters open-not if they catch you at it.
I made some inquiries as to the course to be pursued in the event of burglary, fire, or severe earthquakes.
In earthquakes people act differently. I asked our maid, Yuki, what she did, and found that, when in a foreign-style house, she would crouch beside a wardrobe or other heavy piece of furniture which she thought would protect her if the ceiling should come down.
"But what if the wardrobe should fall over on you?" I asked.
Yuki, however, was not planning for that kind of an earthquake.
In a Japanese house one need not worry about the ceiling, as it is of wood; and as a matter of fact most. of the ceilings in foreign-style houses are of sheet metal.
It seems to me that the most intelligent thing to do in an earthquake is to stand in the arch of a doorway; certainly it is a bad plan to try to run out of the house, as many people, attempting that, have been killed by falling fragments.
One night I got a letter from a friend at home. "Try to be in a little earthquake," he wrote. "They build their houses for them, don't they?"
In the middle of that same night a little earthquake came, as though on invitation. The bedsprings swung; the doors and windows rattled.
At breakfast next morning I asked my hostess, an American lady who has lived most of her life in Japan, whether she had felt the tremor.
"I always feel them," she said."They bother me more and more. In the last few years I have got into the habit of waking up a minute or two before the shocks begin."
"What do you do then? " I asked.
"I lie still," she said, "until the shaking stops. Then I wake my husband and scold him."
The husband of this lady told me of a man he knew, an American, who came out to Japan some years ago on business, intending to stay for a considerable time. On landing in Yokohama he went directly to the office of the company with which he was connected, and had hardly stepped in when the city was violently shaken.
By the time the shocks were over he had changed all his plans.
"Nothing could induce me to stay in a country where this sort of things goes on," he said. "I shall take the next boat back to San Francisco."
He did-and arrived just in time for the great San Francisco quake.
The course to take in case of fire is the same the world over. Shout "Fire?" in the language of the country and try to put the fire out.
But if you find a burglar in your room don't shout the Japanese word for "burglars," even if you know it-which I do not. The thing to shout is "Fire!"-so I am advised by a Japanese friend, who, I am sure, has my best interests at heart. For if you shout "Fire!" in the middle of the night, the neighbours, fearing that the fire will spread to their own houses, rush to your assistance; whereas if you cry "Burglars!" it merely gives them gooseflesh as they lie abed.
Many times it happened in Tokyo that when I was bound on a definite errand somewhere, the chauffeur or the ricksha coolie would land me miles from my intended destination. There are three reasons why this happened so often. First, Tokyo is a very difficult place in which to find one's way about. Second, addresses in Tokyo are not always given by street number, but by wards and districts, and there are tricks about some addresses, as, for instance, the fact that 22 Shiba Park isn't on Shiba Park at all, but is a block or two distant from the park's margin. And third, though the language in which I told the chauffeur or the kurumaya where to go, was offered in good faith as Japanese, it was nine times out of ten not Japanese, but a dead language-a language that was dead because I myself had murdered it.
In some other city I might have felt annoyance over being delivered at the wrong address. But in Tokyo I never really cared where I was going, I found it all so charming.
Once a kurumaya trotted with me for three hours around the city to reach a place he should have reached in one. I knew I would be hours late for my appointment. I knew I ought to fret. But did I? No! Because of all the things that I was seeing.
I saw the bean-curd man jogging along the street with a long rod over his shoulder, at each end of which was suspended a box of tofu, which he announced at intervals by a blast on a little brass horn: "Ta-ta: teeya; tee-e-e-ta!" I saw a thicket of bamboo. I saw a diminutive farmhouse, with mud walls and a deep straw thatch, and in the doorway was a bent old white-haired woman seated at a wooden loom, weaving plaid silk. And behind the bamboo fence and the flowering hedge, stood a cherry tree in blossom.
It began to rain. In any other land I might have felt annoyance over so much rain as we were having. But not so in Japan. Japan could not look gloomy if it tried. Rain makes the landscape greener and the flowers fresher. It makes the coolies put on bristling capes of straw which shed the water as a bird's feathers do, and transform the wearer into a gigantic yellow porcupine. It makes the people leave off the little cotton shoes, called tabi, and go barefoot in their clogs. It makes them change their usual clogs for tall ones lifted up on four-inch stilts; and these as they scrape along the pavement give off a musical "clotch-clotch," which is sometimes curiously tuned in two keys, one for either foot. It brings out huge coloured Japanese umbrellas of bamboo and oiled paper, with black bull'seyes at their centres, and a halo of little points around their outside edges. And as you go splashing by them with your kurumaya ringing his little bell, the women turn their great umbrellas sidewise, resting the margins of them in the road to keep their kimonos from being splattered. And even then they do not look at you severely. They understand that you can't help it. And are you not, moreover, that lordly creature, Man, whereas they are merely women?
All these things I saw while I was lost, that afternoon. Then, just when I might have begun to wonder if I was ever going to reach my destination, what did I see?
Under the eaves of a thatched house beside the way a bronze young mother and three children, all innocent of clothing and self-consciousness, preparing to get into a great wooden barrel of a bathtub. You never saw a sweeter family picture! . . . Yes, the Japanese are peculiarly a clean race. It is not merely hearsay. It is a frontporch fact.
Could any man lose patience with a kurumaya who can get him lost and make him like it?