First impressions of Japan are always pleasing. A newcomer either steps ashore at Nagasaki, where he is at once charmed by a delicious combination of blue sea, green hills, and quaint grey temples standing between, or else he lands at Yokohama and immediately finds himself surprised and delighted by a fantastic, busy maze of queer, small streets, full of queer, small people dressed in graceful robes of unfamiliar shape.
Behind the Screens (1910)
At daybreak, on the morning of July 8, [1853,] we first made land, which proved to be Cape Idzu, a lofty headland on the coast of Niphon, not far south of the entrance of the great Bay of Yedo. The Brocken and Vulcan Islands were in sight on our right. After passing Rock Island, we stood in nearer to the shore, which loomed up grandly through the hazy atmosphere. The promontory of Idzu is a group of mountains, rising to the height of five or six thousand feet, their summits scarred with slides, and their sides mostly covered with forests, though here and there we could discern patches of cultivated land. There were a number of fishing junks off the coast, some of which put back again as we approached. The wind was ahead, we had all sails furled and the yards squared, and the sight of our two immense steamers—the first that ever entered Japanese waters—dashing along at the rate of nine knots an hour, must have struck the natives with the utmost astonishment.
Leaving the mountains of Idzu behind us, we stood across the mouth of the Bay of Kowadzu (as the southern half of the bifurcate Bay of Yedo is called), toward Cape Sagami, at the extremity of the promontory which divides the two. The noon observation gave lat. 34° 57' N. and soon afterwards Cape Sagami came in sight. We lay to while the Captains of the Mississippi, Plymouth and Saratoga came on board, to receive instructions, and then resumed our course. The decks were cleared for action, the guns shotted, the small arms put in complete order, and every precaution taken, in case we should meet with a hostile reception. Near Cape Sagami we descried a large town, and as we came within two miles of the shore, a number of junks, amounting to twelve or fifteen, put off, with the evident intention of visiting us. Each one bore a large banner, upon which characters were inscribed. The rapidity of our progress, against the wind, soon left them behind, no doubt completely nonplussed as to the invisible power which bore us away from them. The Bay now began to be thickly studded with fishing smacks, with here and there a large junk. ...
We kept directly up the Bay, and in half an hour after doubling Cape Sagami saw before us a bold promontory making out from the western coast, at the entrance of the Upper Bay. Within it was the Bight of Urága, and we could plainly see the town of the same name at the head of it. The Plymouth and Saratoga were cast off, and we advanced slowly, sounding as we went, until we had advanced more than a mile beyond the point reached by the Columbus and the Morrison. We were about a mile and a half from the promontory, when two discharges of cannon were heard from a battery at its extremity, and immediately afterwards a light ball of smoke in the air showed that a shell had been thrown up. An order was immediately given to let go the anchor, but as the lead still showed 25 fathoms, the steamer’s head was put in toward the shore, and in a few minutes the anchor was dropped.
Another shell was fired after we came to anchor, and four or five boats filled with Japanese approached us. The rowers, who were all tall, athletic men, naked save a cloth around the loins, shouted lustily as they sculled with all their strength toward us. The boats were of unpainted wood, very sharp in the bows, carrying their greatest breadth of beam well aft, and were propelled with great rapidity. The resemblance of their model to that of the yacht America, struck every body on board. In the stern of each was a small flag, with three horizontal stripes, the central one black and the other white. In each were several persons, who, by their dress and the two swords stuck in their belts, appeared to be men of authority.
The first boat came alongside, and one of the two-sworded individuals made signs for the gangway to be let down. This was refused, but Mr. Wells Williams, the Interpreter, and Mr. Portman, the Commodore’s clerk (who was a native of Holland), went to the ship’s side to state that nobody would be received on board, except the first in rank at Urága. The conversation was carried on principally in Dutch, which the interpreter spoke very well. He asked at once if we were not Americans, and by his manner of asking showed that our coming had been anticipated. He was told that the Commander of the squadron was an officer of very high rank in the United States, and could only communicate with the first in rank on shore. After a long parley, the Vice-Governor of Urága, who was in the boat, was allowed to come on board with the Interpreter, and confer with Lieut. Contee, the Flag Lieutenant. The Japanese official, a fiery little fellow, was much exasperated at being kept in waiting, but soon moderated his tone. He was told that we came as friends, upon a peaceable mission; that we should not go to Nangasaki, as he proposed, and that it was insulting to our President and his special minister to propose it. He was told, moreover, that the Japanese must not communicate with any other vessel than the flag-ship, and that no boats must approach us during the night. An attempt to surround us with a cordon of boats, as in the case of the Columbus and Vincennes, would lead to very serious consequences. They had with them an official notice, written in French, Dutch and English, and intended as a general warning to all foreign vessels, directing them to go no further, to remain out at sea, and send word ashore, why they came and what they wanted. This Lieut. Contee declined to see or acknowledge in any way. The same notice was taken to the Plymouth by another boat, which was at once ordered off.
Commodore Perry had evidently made up his mind from the first not to submit to the surveillance of boats. The dignified and decided stand he took produced an immediate impression upon the Japanese. They were convinced that he was in earnest, and that all the tricks and delays with which they are in the habit of wheedling foreign visitors would be used in vain. Several boats having followed the first one, and begun to collect round us, the Vice-Governor was told that if they did not return at once, they would be fired into. One of them went to the Mississippi; and after being repulsed from the gangway, pulled forward to the bows, where some of the crew tried to climb on board. A company of boarders was immediately called away, and the bristling array of pikes and cutlasses over the vessel’s side caused the Japanese to retreat in great haste. Thenceforth, all the Japanese boats gave us a wide berth, and during the whole of our stay, none approached us except those containing the officials who were concerned in the negotiations. I may here remark that our presence did not seem to disturb, in the least, the coasting trade which finds its focus in Yedo. Without counting the hundreds of small boats and fishing smacks, between sixty and seventy large junks daily passed up and down the bay, on their way to and from Yedo. The Japanese boatmen were tall, handsomely formed men, with vigorous and symmetrical bodies, and a hardy, manly expression of countenance. As the air grew fresher towards evening, they put on a sort of loose gown, with wide, hanging sleeves. As the crew of each boat were all attired alike, the dress appeared to be a uniform, denoting that they were in Government service. The most of them had blue gowns, with white stripes on the sleeves, meeting on the shoulder, so as to form a triangular junction, and a crest, or coat-of-arms, upon the back. Others had gowns of red and white stripes, with a black lozenge upon the back. Some wore upon their heads a cap made of bamboo splints, resembling a broad, shallow basin inverted, but the greater part had their heads bare, the top and crown shaved, and the hair from the back and sides brought up and fastened in a small knot, through which a short metal pin was thrust. The officers wore light and beautifully lacquered hats to protect them from the sun, with a gilded coat-of-arms upon the front part. In most of the boats I noticed a tall spear, with a lacquered sheath for the head, resembling a number or character, and apparently referring to the rank of the officer on board.
After dark, watch-fires began to blaze along the shore, both from the beach and from the summits of the hills, chiefly on the western side of the bay. At the same time we heard, at regular intervals, the sound of a deep-toned bell. It had a very sweet, rich tone, and from the distinctness with which its long reverberations reached us, must have been of large size. A double night-watch was established during our stay, and no officers except the Purser and Surgeons were exempt from serving. But the nights were quiet and peaceful, and it never fell to my lot to report a suspicious appearance of any kind.
The next morning, Yezaimon, the Governor of Urága, and the highest authority on shore, came off, attended by two interpreters, who gave their names as Tatsonoske and Tokoshiuro. He was received by Commanders Buchanan and Adams, and Lieut. Contee. He was a noble of the second rank; his robe was of the richest silken tissue, embroidered with gold and silver in a pattern resembling peacock feathers. The object of his coming, I believe, was to declare his inability to act, not having the requisite authority without instructions from Yedo. At any rate, it was understood that an express would be sent to the Capital immediately, and the Commodore gave him until Tuesday noon to have the answer ready. Sunday passed over without any visit, but on Monday there was an informal one.
From Tuesday until Wednesday noon, Yezaimon came off three times, remaining from two to three hours each time. The result of all these conferences was, that the Emperor had specially appointed one of the Chief Counsellors of the Empire to proceed to Urága, and receive from Commodore Perry the letter of the President of the United States, which the Commodore was allowed to land and deliver on shore. This prompt and unlooked-for concession astonished us all, and I am convinced it was owing entirely to the decided stand the Commodore took during the early negotiations. We had obtained in four days, without subjecting ourselves to a single observance of Japanese law, what the Russian embassy under Resanoff failed to accomplish in six months, after a degrading subservience to ridiculous demands. From what I know of the negotiations, I must say that they were admirably conducted. The Japanese officials were treated in such a polite and friendly manner as to win their good will, while not a single point to which we attached any importance, was yielded. There was a mixture of firmness, dignity and fearlessness on our side, against which their artful and dissimulating policy was powerless. To this, and to our material strength, I attribute the fact of our reception having been so different from that of other embassies, as almost to make us doubt the truth of the accounts we had read.
On the fifteenth of June , at three, P. M., we weighed the anchor, and left Hong Kong. Two days out, the diarrhea showed itself in an epidemic form; ten and fifteen being attacked a day. When we arrived in that beautiful harbor, Nangasaki, we had forty-seven down with the disease. We arrived at the latter port on the twenty-third of the same month. As soon as we approached the shore, the signal-guns along the hills were fired, to announce to the people of the town that a stranger was approaching the harbor. Soon after we anchored, several high Japanese officials came off to the ship, accompanied by ten or fifteen lower-grade Japanese,—all of whom were armed with two swords, one long and one short one,—to ascertain who we were, and what was our wish. The chief spokesman spoke very good English, and was told by our first lieutenant that we came there as Americans, and that our visit was a friendly one. All this was put on paper by another shinore, who acted as a sort of clerk. With this he was very much pleased, and communicated the same to his comrades, who could not understand English. He said that he was happy to see us as such, and the governor at the same time would do all he could to make our visit a pleasant one. We had some officers sick, who wished to reside on shore for a few days, for the benefit of their health. Consent was at once obtained, and the sick officers immediately went on shore. Provisions were sent off to us at very reasonable prices. On the twenty-fourth, Captain Nicholson made his official visit to the governor. At the landing, he was met by several officials, who escorted him up to his excellency’s residence. There he was most cordially received, and entertained with refreshments, &c. On the following day, the second governor of the island came off to the ship, in a barge most gaudily decorated with all kinds of flags and trimmings of Japanese artists, followed by large numbers of small junks and boats, well filled with the high and lower classes of officials,—all bearing those two swords, and neatly attired with the long silk gowns and breeches, with neat scarfs around their waists, and their hair neatly combed back, and secured on the top of their heads like a pig-tail. His excellency was received with fifteen guns, and the Japanese flag flying at our fore; while our excellent band performed some lively tunes, which appeared to please them very much. His suite and escort consisted of near one hundred. They were shown all over the ship, and they examined every part of her very closely; and, when they were shown into the engine-rooms, they appeared to be struck with amazement,—they were delighted with the engines, both of which shone like so much gold and silver. After inspecting every part of the ship, they were entertained with a collation in the cabin and ward-room. The twenty-ninth, it blew a strong gale of wind: no communication with the shore. Second of July, the second governor visited the ship again, with two high officials who wished to see the ship.
Sunday, the glorious Fourth, a day which every American—and every man that loves freedom—ought to love, was a cold and rainy day. Church-services were held on the quarter-deck. The fifth was also a wet and disagreeable day. At eight, A. M., we dressed ship with extra colors, and at noon fired a national salute of twenty-one guns,—which woke up all the Japanese, far and wide, whom we could distinctly see rushing down to the various hill-sides and landings, to see what Uncle Sam’s boys were about,—after which the band played our national air. The glory of firing the first national salute in honor of our independence, in the harbor of Nangasaki belongs to the good old “Mississippi.” It was a dull anniversary to all on board. The weather was disagreeable, and no one had even thought of having a dance or an extra dinner; and the day passed off, with the rain pouring down in torrents, accompanied by very sharp lightning, followed by frightful claps of thunder, that seemed as if they would sink all the surrounding beautiful hills and mountains.
On the afternoon of the 2d August  we first saw symptoms of land, and passed close to some high pointed rocks of picturesque form, in places covered with verdure, but not affording standing-ground for an inhabitant. These bold land-marks are out of sight of the Japanese coast, and are called the Asses’ Ears. Early on the following morning the highlands of Japan were in sight, the nearest land being the island of Iwosima. As we approached it, the first object visible was an evidence of civilisation unknown among the Chinese; on its highest summit a flagstaff at once telegraphed our appearance to the mainland. We did not then know that cannon, placed at intervals the whole way to the capital, were noisily repeating this signal, so that intelligence of our approach was even then reverberating almost from one end of the Empire to the other; and his majesty the Tycoon at Yedo, six or seven hundred miles away, was informed that we had entered the Bay of Nagasaki by the time that we had dropped our anchor in it.
On the evening of the 12th [of June, 1859,] we passed close to an island, supposed to be one of the outstanding Japanese islands, and the next morning the sight of Cape Goto enabled us to steer directly for the harbour of Nangasaki. The whole of that evening, in spite of the rain, all the officers were on deck, their eyes bent on the dark mountain range before them, anxious to arrive in the mysterious land so long a marvel to the rest of the civilized world. The commodore, captain, and master, enveloped in their thick leather coats, were peering into the gloom, or now and then consulting the chart of the coast by the light of the ship’s lantern. Presently a faint light was seen ahead; then one after another some four or five hundred flaming torches, fixed over the sterns of as many fishing craft, came in view. It was a beautiful sight, those lights against the dark mountains, forming a half circle round the bay, and extending as far as the eye could reach along the coast. As their glimmer became starlike and less, it reminded me of former days, when passing at night by Brighton, or some other bathing town of the south coast of England. Every few minutes blue lights were shown from some conspicuous part of the ship, and on rounding a point two blue specks in the distance, shown by our consorts, guided us up to an anchorage. The Rynda and Gredin, after a splendid passage of seven days from Hong Kong, had already been in Nangasaki nine days, and her officers had seen almost all that was to be seen in the place. They had been visited by the officials, who brought off a pig and baskets of vegetables and fruit as an offering; had visited and received the visit of the Governor; had dined with him, and had their dessert sent after them on board, according to Japanese etiquette—all which was to be enacted anew for the commodore and for us on the morrow.
At daylight on the 12th of October, 1860, the swift little barque ‘Marmora,’ in which I was a passenger from China, was rapidly approaching the coast of Japan—a country at the ends of the earth, and well named by its inhabitants “the Kingdom of the Origin of the Sun.” When I came on deck in the morning the far-famed shores of Zipangu lay spread before my wondering eyes for the first time. Having heard and read so many stories of this strange land—of its stormy coasts, on which many a goodly vessel had been wrecked; of its fearful earthquakes, which were said to have thrown up, in a single night, mountains many thousands of feet above the level of the sea; of its luxuriant vegetation, full of strange and beautiful forms; of its curious inhabitants; and last, but not least, of its salamanders!—I had long looked upon Japan much in the same light as the Romans regarded our own isles in the days of the ancient Britons.
My first view of these shores, however, did a good deal towards dispelling this delusion. It was a lovely morning. The sun rose from behind the eastern mountains without a cloud to obscure his rays. The Gotto islands and Cape Gotto were passed to the north of us, and with a fair wind and smooth sea we were rapidly approaching the large island of Kiu-siu, on which the town of Nagasaki is situated. The land is hilly and mountainous, and in many instances it rises perpendicularly from the sea. These perpendicular rocky cliffs have a very curious appearance as one sails along. There are also a number of queer-looking detached little islands dotted about; and one almost wonders how they got there, as they seem to have no connexion with any other land near them. Some of them are crowned with a scraggy pine-tree or two, and look exactly like those bits of rockwork which are constantly met with in the gardens of China and Japan. No doubt these rocky islands have suggested the idea worked out in gardens, and they have been well imitated. Others of these rocks look in the distance like ships under full sail, and in one instance I observed a pair of them exactly like fishing junks, which are generally met with in pairs. Nearer the shore the islands are richly clothed with trees and brushwood, resembling those pretty “Pulos” which are seen in the Eastern Archipelago. The highest hills on this part of the mainland of Kiu-siu are about 1500 feet above the level of the sea; but hills of every height, from 300 to 1500 feet, and of all forms, were exposed to our view as we approached the entrance to the harbour of Nagasaki. Many of these hills were terraced nearly to their summits, and at this season these terraces were green with the young crops of wheat and barley.
The pretty little island of Papenberg stands as if it were a sentinel guarding the harbour of Nagasaki. Pretty it certainly is, and yet it is associated with scenes of persecution, cruelty, and bloodshed of the most horrible description. “If history spoke true,” says Captain Sherard Osborn, “deeds horrid enough for it to have been for ever blighted by God’s wrath have been perpetrated there during the persecutions of the Christians in the seventeenth century. It was the Golgotha of the many martyrs to the Roman Catholic faith. There, by day and by night, its steep cliffs had rung with the agonized shrieks of strong men, or the wail of women and children, launched to rest, after torture, in the deep waters around the island. If Jesuit records are to be believed, the fortitude and virtue exhibited by their Japanese converts in those sad hours of affliction have not been excelled in any part of the world since religion gave another plea to man to destroy his fellow-creature; and may it not be that the beauty with which Nature now adorns that rock of sorrows is her halo of glory around a spot rendered holy by the sufferings, doubtless, of many that were brave and good?” As we passed the island we gazed with awe and pity on its perpendicular side, from which these Christians were cast headlong into the sea.
Yedo and Peking (1863)
We now approach Nagasaki [in 1862], the long gulf, or inlet, leading to which, is nearly four miles long, though scarcely one mile broad in the widest part. Nagasaki is, perhaps, the most beautiful harbour I have ever seen, surpassing, I am even inclined to think, that of Singapore, with its myriad of emerald isles, in place of which we have here high towering cliffs, looking down upon scenes of woodland beauty, peaks rising so precipitously, it would seem as though they sprung from the verdant hills below.
The scene which met us on landing [at Yokohama in 1862], and through which we walked to Mr. Brower’s house, was no less novel than busy. At the head of the quay we passed a long low building with black walls and paper windows. This was the custom-house, and a large number of men bearing two swords, and shuffling in sandals in and out at the doors, were the officials of this service. The broad streets, leading through the foreign quarter, were crowded with Japanese porters, bearing merchandise to and from the quay, each pair with their burden between them on a pole, and marking time independently of the others, with a loud monotonous cry—whang hai! whang hai!
We immediately reported ourselves by letters to the Governor of Kanagawa, and receiving an answer from that officer that he would communicate with the Government at Yeddo, we settled down to await further orders.
Across America and Asia (1870)
When our steamer dropped anchor in the harbor of Yokohama [in 1869], we were immediately surrounded by these sampans. From the deck we saw the small, frail vessels and the almost naked boatmen, with their skin bronzed by constant exposure to the sun and wind. The first view of the Japanese is not prepossessing, nor are the tones of their voices, when first heard, agreeable to the ear. But we could not dwell upon these early impressions, as we were anxious to reach the city of Yokohama, that lay just a mile from us. So bidding adieu to the officers of the Great Republic and to our fellow-passengers, whose destination was still farther on to China, the Flowery Kingdom—we descended the ladder by the side of the steamer, stepped cautiously into a sampan, and with our baggage were soon landed on the shore.
The Sunrise Kingdom (1879)
Japan, the Land of the Sunrise, that mysterious unapproachable group of islands which, twenty years ago, had scarcely been visited by more Englishmen than Thibet has up to the present moment, can now be reached from an English settlement within a space of forty-eight hours. We leave Shanghae at daybreak on a May morning [in 1870], in one of the large vessels of the Pacific Mail Steamship Company, and the next dawn but one finds us snugly anchored in the harbour of Nagasaki.
But though only 400 miles of ocean thus divide China and Japan, the gulf of separation in other than geographical points seems much wider. And perhaps between no two spots in the two countries could the difference appear more striking to a traveller than between Shanghae and Nagasaki. The recollections of the former place, with its flat and almost treeless surrounding country, the muddy waters of its river, and its dirty native town, are still fresh in our minds; but in the harbour of the latter, as we look round in the light of the early morning from our vessel’s deck, what a contrast meets the eye! We are lying in the middle of a land-locked harbour, the extreme length of which is rather more than four miles, whilst its breadth varies from half a mile to nearly two miles. The water of the harbour is blue and sparkling, its surface broken by a number of native junks, and by nearly a score of vessels of foreign rig, which can now visit freely the port which twenty years ago was only entered by two European ships annually.
Round the World in 1870 (1872)
On coming on deck early on the morning of November 1st, [1875,] I found the Japanese land before us. The outline of mountains rising to considerable heights, and sinking with wooded sides into the water, with countless white sails of junks in the foreground, constituted a lovely scene, which a month at sea fitted us to enjoy. The sail up the arm of the sea, in which Yokohama is situated, and which extends to Yeddo, is very fine, reminding me of the entrance to Plymouth Sound.
At twelve o’clock, after a passage of thirty days, six hours, twenty-eight minutes, we anchored opposite the beautiful town of Yokohama, in a harbour filled with men-of-war and ships of various nations. ...
I established myself at the Grand Hotel—a very comfortable house—managed by a company, of which Mr. Smith, a gentleman whose public spirit has done much for Yokohama, and to whose courtesy and knowledge of Japan travellers who consult him are much indebted, is a leading director. There are several other hotels in the town. The first thing which strikes one on landing is the jinrikisha, the conveyance of the country, which is a seat placed on wheels, and drawn by one or, for longer distances, two men, who run along, sometimes going as much as seven miles an hour. It is comfortable, though for my part I do not like turning men into cattle. In the afternoon I paid a visit to Yeddo, returning to Yokohama to dinner. The distance of nearly twenty miles is accomplished by a railway, recently constructed, which runs at a little distance from the shores of the gulf, through fields of rice, passing several villages. The snowy mass of Fusiama, the great volcano of Japan, rising to the height of nearly 13,000 feet, looks very striking from the line.
We were now [in 1876] steaming under the stars in the calm waters of Yedo Bay. Presently a floating light was rounded, and a few minutes later we dropped anchor in the harbour of Yokohama. Blue lights were burned, and a shot fired from the vessel was answered by another from the shore. The lights of the town, about a mile off, were here and there intersected by the dark masts and funnels of the vessels in port. The calm dark water reflected both the lights on shore and the less regular ships’ lights, and, stirred here and there by the measured dips of oars, cast a beautiful phosphorescence. With the subdued hum from the town mingled the tones of the various ships’ watch-bells, ringing clearly in harmony or succession.
A number of small boats shortly appeared, making for the steamer; and soon we were boarded by the agent for the company, the usual array of hotel servants, etc., etc. I had the good fortune to be saluted by my friend Henderson, who, welcoming me to Japan, invited me to his house. Getting on board one of the Japanese boats, we were sculled ashore by two almost nude boatmen, landing at the English hatoba, or landing stage. Then, getting each into a jin-riki-sha, we were rapidly drawn by men with black hair and yellow skins through the streets of the settlement and up the avenues of the Bluff, to Mr Henderson’s residence, a bungalow surrounded by shrubbery. As we sat at supper, the cicada was singing vigorously, a mosquito frequently passed one’s ear with its thin hum, and black beetles were flying aimlessly about the room, continually knocking against the walls with a buzz of mortification, and then falling stunned on the floor.
The Land of the Morning (1882)
Early on the morning of the 11th [of January, 1879] we went upon deck and saw the pleasant town of Yokohama, with its long line of European-looking buildings extending along the sea-front, and its charming residences high up on “The Bluff,” on our left. In the roadstead or harbour were ships of all nations, including British, American, and German men-of-war, with the flag of Japan floating proudly from many a war-vessel, one of which, the ironclad frigate Foo-so, I had myself had the privilege to design and have built for his majesty the emperor. After breakfast the steam-launches were again alongside, and several young officers whom we had known in England had come out in them to escort us to the port admiral’s landing-place, where we were most cordially received by their excellencies Admiral Kawamura and Mr. Enouyé Kawori, the ministers of marine and of public works respectively, both of whom we had had the pleasure of knowing in England. With them were Admiral Ito and several naval and civil officers, some of whom we already knew, and others whose acquaintance we then made for the first time, as we did also that of Captain Hawes, an English officer who had established and brought to a condition of great excellence a corps of Japanese marines whose disbandment subsequent events had brought about.
Grand Hotel, Yokohama, Japan, February 15[,1880].—We anchored in the bay of Yeddo, after a rough unpleasant passage in the American steamer ‘City of Tokio,’ from Hong Kong this morning. Bright cold air and bright blue sea, the passengers going about in sealskin jackets, and the American stewardess gorgeous in maroon satin and velvet. She has been reading the last new English novel in the ‘Social Hall’ on deck, but condescends sometimes to come downstairs and give me some soup. Japanese boats, propelled by funny little men with quaint paddles fixed in the bow of their craft, wriggle along in a surprising manner. We got into the Grand Hotel ‘house-boat,’ a sort of covered gondola, and passing under English and American and French gunboats and big steamers, come in to load with Japanese silk and tea, reached the Custom House, where polite little Japanese officials, in European costume, with much bowing and many apologies, examined our baggage, and looked unkindly at my Canton silk. However, the big British ‘Commissionaire’ from the hotel took the bundle under his arm and walked off with us, and the luggage followed in a cart drawn by human ponies, active, laughing little men. A Frenchman keeps this hotel; said to be ‘the best in the world,’ and showed us cheerful rooms looking out on the Bay, with large plate-glass windows and French furniture. Japanese housemaids, little men in black tights and straw sandals, their hair done up in door-knockers at the top of their head, bowed politely, skipped about, got all our luggage together, and instructed us in the art of ringing the electric bells, much in use in this ‘go-ahead’ land.
On the next morning, May 15th, [1887,] I awoke at about half-past four o’clock. Looking out of my port window, I saw that the sun was shining brightly and that two fishing junks were passing us, outward bound. It did not take me long to dress and hurry on deck, where I found most of the passengers already assembled. We were steaming up Yokohama Bay. On either side of us were the green shores of Japan, and Fujiama (i. e. the peerless mountain), snow-capped and in majestic beauty, was plainly seen, although about seventy miles distant. The blue water, the glorious sky, the pretty gardens, the brilliant verdure, the odd-looking bungalows, the queerly-built craft in the shape of junks and sampans, with their swarthy, sinewy, half-naked crews—all combined to make a scene that I shall never forget. All seemed so new, so strange, so beautiful, that in my enthusiasm I felt it would have been worth making the journey of some eight thousand miles, if only for the sake of experiencing the delights of that joyous entry into Japan.
The long, lonely passage from San Francisco to Japan, where for nearly three weeks there is neither island, rock, ship, or sail within the range of vision, prepares one to expect strange sights and scenes when land appears again; nor is he disappointed. To one who makes here his first acquaintance with life in the Orient, the scene as we enter the harbor of Yokohama [in 1887] is a novel one. Scores of small craft shoot out from shore and gather about the steamer as we drop anchor, or scurry in her wake if the anchor is not yet lowered. The boatmen scull their crafts each with a single oar, and crowd and scramble for places near the ship, clamoring and screaming at each other like very demons, and yet without the least hostile intent or demonstration; and making fast with hook or rope, climb the side of the vessel like nimble-footed monkeys, ready to serve, for a moderate compensation, any one who desires to reach the shore with the least delay. In soliciting passengers, however, there is none of the clamor or ado so freely indulged among themselves in gathering about the ship. They proffer their services and await results, and if unsuccessful show no ill-humor or chagrin. Some public servants we wot of in America might well take lessons in good manners of the Japanese.
From Japan to Granada (1889)
At break of day [ca. 1891] I went on deck to get that first view of Japan which so charms and surprises all who see it for the first time. All about the ship were little unpainted boats, whose owners were eager to land passengers for a sixpence; but with the ignorance of a stranger I preferred awaiting the arrival of the steam-launch sent out by the different hotels. On reaching shore, found good quarters at the Grand Hotel; and have spent the day in obtaining impressions and mental photographs.
One cannot readily forget the first day in a new land. Everything is strange; trifles are amusing. Leaving the principal street and eluding jinrikisha-men—more persistent even than Neapolitan hackmen—I found my way on foot to the Japanese town.
In Asia at last! Everything is new, strange, different. All the houses are unpainted; storm and sunshine have given them a rich greyish-brown tint, the natural hue of unstained wood. The ground-floor, a shop usually, is sometimes open to the street, sometimes half-shaded by a bamboo screen. Every device seems to have the purpose of letting in the air and keeping out the sunlight.
The 23rd [of September, 1891] was a dull rainy day, but we anchored in Yokohama harbour by 7 a.m., and from that moment the fun began. Dozens of “sampans” (canoes) surrounded the Empress, full of the quaintest Japanese, who crowded to the ship’s side and climbed up the rope-ladder, eager to help in the unloading. Some were extremely lightly clothed, and others wore long dressing-gowns of Liberty blue cotton, but all looked in the best of tempers, and it was quite difficult to withdraw our heads from the port-holes in order to attend to the rescue of our baggage from the hold. This proved to be a serious task, but at last it was safely accomplished, and, by the kindness of Mr. Walters, of Yokohama, we went ashore in the consul’s boat. It was not unlike a gondola in shape, and the sailors at either end pulled a clumsy oar and gently crooned to themselves meanwhile. We landed a few minutes after 9 a.m., and found ourselves at once in the hands of the neatest set of little Japanese custom-house officers. We had nothing contraband in our boxes; so after a rapid examination they were passed without any difficulty, except indeed, one tiny pot of “pomade divine,” sealed with red wax, which, until explanations were given, was evidently considered to contain dynamite at the very least. It was a thrilling moment—that landing in Japan—in spite of all the outside details of luggage, etc., that usually interfere with thrilling moments in long journeys, and we all felt it to be so.
Japan As We Saw It (Bickersteth) (1893)
We awoke this morning [in 1893] to find ourselves in the land of the Rising Sun, at anchor before lovely Nagasaki. We were lying in a beautiful bay, round which nestled the town surrounded by odd-shaped hills covered with fresh spring green. Hundreds of little Japanese men and women were soon clambering up the sides of our ship, like monkeys, delivering, in small baskets, 1,700 tons of coal. It was rather a primitive way of doing so, but it was really most extraordinary to notice the agility of these bright chattering people, passing the circular baskets holding about 12 lbs. of coal one from another, as they stood on the rungs of the ladders, right into the bunkers. Japan really lies before us at last, and we are soon taken ashore in a gondola-shaped sampan. On landing at the jetty, we are surrounded by a crowd of the Japanese jinricksha men, and are soon bowling along through narrow streets with little houses, and little men and women waddling along with the peculiar noise made by the geta or wooden clogs which they wear, while the women and girls mostly have plump little babies strapped on their backs. As the people are small, so everything is in proportion, and the diminutive must often be employed in describing things Japanese.
After a somewhat stormy crossing from Shanghai I arrived at daybreak before Nagasaki [ca. 1910]. Wakened by the noise of the chain-cable, I cast a glance through the “bull’s eye” of my cabin, and felt at once delighted with the beautiful scenery spread out before my eyes. It is an irregular mountainous country, and its hills are covered with exuberant vegetation. Under the rays of the morning sun, mountains, valleys, and hillsides were showing their most wonderful tints. Picturesque hills, planted up to their summits with slender evergreen nut pines, varied with waving valleys of flower and fruit-bearing fields, which appeared interwoven with brooks like silver threads. Friendly little houses were looking out here and there from between the fir trees, bamboo, and sycamores, and the numerous bays of the isle were alive with fisher-boats and merchant vessels.
Japan As I Saw It (1912)