The Missing Lunch-The Japanese Chauffeur-the Little Train-Japanese Railroads-The Railway Lunch-The Railway Teapot-Reflections on Some American Ways- Are the Japanese Honest?-A Story of Viscount Shibusawa -Travelling Customs-An Eavesdropping EpisodeNEITHER the box of lunch nor the automobile to take us to the station was ready, though both had been ordered the previous night. We waited until twenty minutes before train time; then made a dash for the station in a taxi which happened along providentially-something taxis seldom do in Tokyo.
The drive took us several miles across the city. Through a picturesque and incoherent jumble of street traffic, over canals, past the huge concrete amphitheatre in which wrestling bouts are held, across a steel bridge spanning the Sumida River, through a maze of muddy streets lined with openfronted shops partially protected from the hot sun by curtains of indigo cotton bearing advertisements in large white Chinese characters, we flew precariously, facing collisions half a dozen times yet magically escaping them as one always does behind a Japanese chauffeur. It is said that the Japanese chauffeur is not, as a rule, a good mechanic. As to that I cannot say, but I assure you he can drive. At an incredible speed he will whirl you through the dense slow-moving crowds of a street festival or around the hairpin curves of a muddy mountain pass with one wheel following the slippery margin of a precipice, but he will never hurt so much as a hair of your head, unless, perchance, it hurts your hair to stand on end.
The Ryogoku Station, where we found our friends awaiting us, is a modest frame structure, terminus of an unimportant railway line serving the farming and fishing villages of the Boso Peninsula-which depends from the mainland in such a way as to form the barrier between Tokyo Bayand the Pacific.
The train seemed to have been awaiting us. It started as soon as we had boarded it, and was presently rocking along through open country at twentyfive or thirty miles an hour. There was something of solemn playfulness about that little train. The cars were no heavier than street cars and the locomotive would have made hard work of drawing a pair of Pullmans, yet in its present role it gave a pompous performance, hissing, whistling, and snorting as importantly as if it had been the engine of a great express. The little guards, too, joined gravely in the game, calling out the names of country stations as majestically as if each were a metropolls. And the very landscape took its place in the whimsy, for our toy train ran over it as over a flat rug patterned with little green rice fields. The Japanese Government, which so woefully mishandles its telephones and cables, does better with its railroads. They are fairly well run. Trains are almost invariably on time, and the cars are not uncomfortable, although the narrower gauge of the Japanese roads makes them necessarily smaller than our cars.
The ordinary Japanese sleeping-car is divided into halves. One half is like an American Pullman sleeper, very much scaled down in size, while the other half resembles a European wagon-lit in miniature, with a narrow aisle at one side and compartments in which the berths are arranged transversely to the train.
As in Europe, there are three classes of day coaches. Except where trains are overcrowded, as they often are, one may travel quite as comfortably secondclass as first. Coaches of all three classes are like street cars with long seats running from end to end at either side. Usually the car is divided in the middle by a partition, the theory being that one end is for smokers; but in pratice the Japanese, who are inveterate users of tobacco, seem to smoke when and where they please while travelling.
Express trains carry dining cars which are like small reproductions of ours. Some of these diners serve Japanese-style meals, some European, and some both.
Much thought has evidently been given to making travel easy for English-speaking people. Each car of every train carries a sign giving, in English, the train's destination; time-tables printed in English are easily obtained, railroad tickets are printed in both languages, and the name of each town is trebly set forth on railroad station signs, being displayed in English, in Chinese characters, and in kana.
As in the United States, station porters wear red caps but they have the European trick of passing baggage in and out of the car windows, so that the doorways are not blocked with it when passengers wish to get on and off. Also at stations of any consequence there are boys wearing green caps, who peddle newspapers, tea, and lunches.
The Japanese railway lunch is an institution as highly organized as the English railway lunch. On the platforms of all large stations you can purchase almost any sort of lunch you desire, neatly wrapped in paper napkins and packed in an immaculate wooden box. On each box the date is stamped, so that the traveller may be sure that everything is fresh. You may get a box containing liberal portions of roast chicken and Kamakura ham, with salad and hard-boiled eggs and a dainty bamboo knife and fork; or if you wish a light repast, a box of assorted sandwiches, thin and moist as sandwiches should always be but so seldom are. Or, again, you may get a variety of Japanese dishes, similarly packed.
On this trip I selected a box of that delicacy known as tai-meshi, and was not sorry that my order for lunch had been overlooked at the hotel. Taimeshi consists of a palatable combination of rice and shredded sea-bream cooked in a sauce containing saké which obliterates the fishy taste of the seabream. The box cost me the equivalent of seventeen cents, chop-sticks included. From the green-cap boy who sold it to me I also purchased, for five cents, an earthenware pot containing tea, and a small cup, and when I had drunk the tea I learned that I could have the pot refilled with hot water at practically any station, for a couple of cents more.
Just as your English traveller leaves the railway lunch basket in the train when he is done with it, your Japanese traveller leaves the teapot and cup. Drinking the philosopher's beverage I found myself wondering whether such a system would be successful in the United States. I concluded that it would not. Some of the lunch-baskets and teapots would get back to their rightful owners, but many would disappear. There is a certain type of American, and he is numerous, who has a constitutional aversion to conforming to a nice, orderly custom of this kind. He has too much-let us call it initiative-for that. If he thought the lunchbasket and teapot worth taking home he would take them home; nor would he be deterred by the mere fact that they were not his, having only been rented to him. His subconscious sense of the importance of his own "personality" would lift him over any little obstacle of that kind. Without thinking matters out he would feel that because he had used them they were his. What he had used no one else should use-even though its usefulness to him was past. Wherefore, if he thought the basket and the teapot not worth taking, he would stamp his "personality" upon them. He might take the basket apart to see how it was made, or he might draw out his penknife and cut holes in it. Then he would consider what to do with the teapot. Finding that it fitted nicely in the palm of his hand, and sensing by touch its brittleness, he would want to use it as a missile. If he prided himself on the accuracy of his pitching he would throw it at a telegraph pole, but if he felt quite certain that he could not hit a pole he would wait for a large rock pile or a factory wall, and would hurl it against that with all his might, to make the largest possible explosion.
People often ask me whether the Japanese are honest. Doubt on this subject is, I believe, largely due to the old story that Chinese tellers are employed in Japanese banks-all Chinamen being trustworthy and all Japanese the reverse. I know of no better example of the vitality of a lie than is afforded by the survival of this one. It is a triple lie. Japanese banks do not have Chinese tellers. The Japanese as a race are no more dishonest than other people. The leading bankers of Japan, many of whom I have met, are men of the highest character and the greatest enlightenment, and would be so recognized in any land. Nor is this merely my opinion. It is the opinion I have heard expressed by several of the greatest bankers and manufacturers in the United States-men who have done business with Japanese bankers and who know them thoroughly.
It is true that trademarks and patented articles manufactured in other countries have been stolen by some Japanese manufacturers and merchants, and that this abominable practice is to some extent kept up even to-day. But conditions in this respect are improving as business morality grows. Nor should it be forgotten that the present standard of international commercial ethics, which so strongly reprehends such thefts, is comparatively a new thing throughout the entire world. It must, however, be admitted that Japan is not, in this particular, fully abreast of the other great nations.
As for the average of probity among the people at large I can say this-that if I were obliged to risk leaving a valuable possession in a public place, on the chance of its being found by an honest person and returned to me, I should prefer to take the risk in Japan, than in most other countries. Certainly, I should prefer to take it there than in the United States-unless I could specify certain rural sections of the United States, where I should feel that my chances were better than in the neighbourhood of New York.
The Japanese are respecters of property, private and public. One may visit the historic buildings of Japan without seeing a single evidence of vandalism. I was immensely struck by this. It was so unlike home! More than once, over there, I thought of a visit I paid, some years ago, to Monticello, the beautiful old mansion built near Charlottesville, Virginia, by Thomas Jefferson, and of what the caretaker told me. All visitors, he said, had to be watched. Otherwise vines would be torn from the walls of the house, bricks chipped, and marble statuary broken. They had even found it necessary to build an iron fence around Jefferson's grave to protect the monument from American patriots who would like to take home little pieces of it.
The custom of visiting historic places and the graves of historic figures is much more common in Japan than in America. Many of Japan's most famous monuments are entirely unprotected, but instead of knocking them to pieces to get souvenirs the pilgrim will burn a little incense before them, and perhaps leave his visiting card on the spirit of the departed. Or he may write a poem.
Dr. John H. Finley has told me a story which well illustrates the delicate and reverential attitude of the Japanese in such matters.
When Baron-now Viscount-Shibusawa came to the United States several years ago, a banquet was given in his honour in New York by the Japan Society, of which Doctor Finley was then president.
At the banquet Doctor Finley remarked to the guest of honour that he heard he had sent an emissary with a wreath to be laid upon the grave of Townsend Harris, first American Minister to Japan, who is buried in Brooklyn.
"No,"said Baron Shibusawa, "that is not exactly what occurred. I did not send the wreath. I took it myself and laid it on the grave. And I wrote two poems in memory of Townsend Harris and hung them in the branches of a Japanese maple tree overhanging his resting-place."
But let us get back to our little railroad train.
The men among our Japanese fellow travellers were sitting on the seats with their feet on the floor, as we do, but the women and children had slipped off their clogs and were squatting in the seats with their backs to the aisle, looking out of the windows or dozing with their heads resting upon their hands, or against the window-frame. One elderly lady was lying at full length on the seat, asleep, with her bare feet resting on the cushions.
The Japanese are much less fearful than we of the interest of fellow passengers, and indeed, so far as concerns strangers of their own race, they are justified in this, for Japanese travellers pay little or no attention to one another. In foreigners they are more interested. A Japanese who can speak English will frequently start a conversation with the traveller from abroad, and will almost invariably endeavour to be helpful. Rustics stare at the stranger with a sort of dumb interest, just as American rustics might stare at a Japanese; and young Japanese louts sometimes snicker when they see a foreigner, and comment upon him, just as young American louts might do on seeing a Japanese passing by-especially if he was wearing his national costume.
"Pipe the Jap," a New York street-corner loafer might exclaim; while similarly an ill-bred youth of Tokyo, Kobe or Yokohama might remark: "Keto," which means "hairy foreigner." The term keto is not intended to be complimentary, yet no more real harm is meant by its user than would be meant by an American smart-aleck who should speak of "chinks,""kykes" or "micks." Such terms merely exemplify the instinctive hostility of small-minded men the world over, for all who are not exactly like themselves.
Some Japanese country folk who sat opposite us on our journey to the Boso Peninsula were clearly much interested in us-particularly in the ladies of our party, and as so few foreigners understand the Japanese language, they felt safe in talking us over amongst themselves.
"What a strange little thing to wear on one's head!" said the husband, to the wife referring to a neat little turban worn by one of our ladies.
"Yes," said the wife," and I don't see how she can walk in those shoes with their tall, thin little heels. Aren't they funny!"
These remarks and others revealing their interested speculations as to which women of our party were married to which men, were translated to us by the friend who had organized the excursion. Being a good deal of a wag, he let them talk about us until the subject seemed to be exhausted. Then he addressed a casual question, in Japanese, to the husband across the way. I have seldom seen a man look more disconcerted than that one did just then. He answered the question, but that was the last word we heard him speak. Though an hour passed before he and his wife got off the train, and though they had until then talked volubly together, the complete silence which came over them was not broken by so much as a monosyllable until they reached the station platform. There, however, we saw that they had begun to talk again, and with gestures showing not a little agitation. I had a feeling that each was blaming the other for the whole affair. Relations between husband and wife are, in some respects at least, a good deal more alike in all countries than is commonly supposed.