A day or two after our arrival [in Nagasaki] we took a charming walk, passing through a shady wood, till we gained the summit of a small hill opposite the house, which we walked partially round, until we arrived at a spot commanding a magnificent peep of the Pappenberg and other smaller islands.
The most lovely flowers blooming here in wild luxuriance, I culled from “nature’s bowers” a fragrant bouquet, which I carried triumphantly home. It consisted of so many varieties, several of them of great beauty, that a ball-room belle would have been proud to display it in her hand, and an English florist would have rejoiced to see such novel and profitable specimens blossoming together in his garden.
Among those flowers, the names of which were more or less familiar to me, were the sweet woodbine, the wild rose, the large sweet pea, azalia, seringa, orange blossom, and wax-like camelia, besides others which were quite new to me. The wax plant is a beautiful tree, growing in great abundance here. I picked a sprig of its bright green leaves, but, to my great annoyance, found it left dirty stains on my fingers, very sticky and difficult to remove, owing, I suppose, to matter oozing out.
We saw numbers of camelia trees, some twenty, some thirty feet high, I should suppose, with clusters of lovely flowers visible amidst their dark green foliage. This tree is likewise very common in China, but none of the specimens I saw there grow to such a height as those of Japan.
According to writers on this branch of Natural History, the camelia is so called in honour of Kamel, a Spanish Jesuit. They describe it as an evergreen shrub, frequently seen in China and Japan—one kind, called “Oleifera,” furnishing the Chinese with quantities of oil, which they use for domestic purposes. Of the various kinds, the Japonica, I believe, is considered the most beautiful.
During our stay in Japan we also frequently saw the lotus, which has a beautiful flower. The inhabitants make use of the root, when young, for food, and, when boiled, it is very tender and palatable. The flower, I believe, they regard with a kind of reverence.
We walked five miles through the lovely valley of the river Kaiso, first under arcades of ‘Arbor Vitæ’ and cryptomeria, the river rushing over a rocky bed on one side, here and there a picturesque water-wheel, or wayside shrine, and once we passed the country house of a late ‘Daimio,’ now turned into a tea-house; the only relic left of the chieftain was a memorial stone lantern under a yew tree, and a magnificent weeping cherry making the spot where he committed ‘hara kiri’ white with its blossoms, for, as the Japanese say, ‘there is other snow than that which falls from the skies.’ The double azaleas (four blossoms in one), and the ‘Pyrus Japonica,’ with flowers as large as crown-pieces, and the crimson-berried plants of the ‘Heavenly Bamboo,’ are lovely. Still, nothing has any perfume, not even the violets, and we feel sure our South of England spring-flowers are as beautiful.
The Japanese cherry tree is cultivated not for its fruit but for its blossom, called sakura, and is more lovely than anything Europe has to show. It holds in Japan the same position as the rose does in England.
Among the flowers of spring it is to the cherry-bloom that the Japanese pays most devotion. Among the sombre old cryptomerias and pines of Uyeno [in Tokyo], its delicate white, or white gently tipped with pink, appears surpassingly beautiful, especially on the drooping boughs. Mukojima, however, has the chief attractions. Here, along the east bank of the river Sumida, is an avenue, two miles in length, bordered with cherry-trees. Early in April, fleets of pleasure-boats glide up the stream, filled with gaily dressed people of all classes. In the avenue it is difficult to make one’s way, so dense is the throng. But at the side are little gardens with tea-houses, where breathing space may be had, as well as refreshments, a speciality of the place and season being a drink flavoured with cherry blossom. It is a merry sight;—the endless vista of overarching boughs as white as if laden with snow-flakes, each breath of wind scattering a shower of delicate petals, the cheerful crowd of holiday-makers moving quietly, or sitting in rest-houses, with their tasteful attire and winning manners, the peals of laughter and fugitive strains of music, the tidy pavilioned pleasure-boats moored to the stakes which support the sedgy river-bank, one or two white sails of barges making their way down or up stream, a glimpse of the upper reaches of the river with its low grassy banks and a reedy islet in mid-channel, cityward the pagoda and great roofs of Asakusa, and above the great city, with its grey roofs, sprinkling of white walls, and wooded bluffs, the inspiration of deathless Fuji-san. Have we reached the ‘Land of Perennial Life,’ of which the poets of Japan have so often sung? It would almost seem so, the whole scene is so perfectly delightful, so suggestive of undisturbed peace and prosperity. It is possible we may see a beggar or a drunkard, and thus for the moment awake from our dream of bliss; but such sights are rare. The general impression is one of unalloyed enjoyment.
The Land of the Morning (1882)
Everything in Yoshino [near Nara] is redolent of the cherry; the pink and white cakes brought in with the tea are in the shape of its blossoms, and a conventional form of it is painted on every lantern and printed on every scrap of paper in the place. The shops sell preserved cherry flowers for making tea, and visitors to the tea-houses and temples are given maps of the district—or, rather, broad sheets roughly printed in colors, not exactly a map or a picture—on which every cherry grove is depicted in pink. And all this is simply enthusiasm for its beauty and its associations, for the trees bear no fruit worthy of the name. ... It is difficult for an outsider to determine how much of this is genuine enthusiasm and how much is custom or a traditional æstheticism; but it really matters little. That the popular idea of a holiday should be to wander about in the open air, visiting historic places, and gazing at the finest landscapes and the flowers in their seasons, indicates a high level of true civilization, and the custom, if it be only custom, proves the refinement of the people who originated and adhere to it.
Notes in Japan (1896)
To see a single branch, a single tree, a single orchard of New England blossoms, is quite another thing from seeing the entire land swept with a misty and a magic veil of pink and white. It is safe to arrive in Japan the first of April. During the next two weeks the land is wrapped in mystic colour. Bands of diaphanous tints spread through the sky, as if Iris had dropped her dainty scarf across our way. Down the back lanes and across country paths, in the broad acres of Ueno Park, through the woodland, and along the banks of the Arashiyama rapids, wherever the pilgrim turns his staff, the beautiful blossoms are floating through the air, and life outdoors seems a fairy dream. The foreigners wonder and admire, while the natives love and adore the tender blossoms. Word is sped from Tokio to Yokohama, “The cherries are at their height to-day. The best may be gone if you wait another day. Don’t fail to come at once,” and the trains are packed with enthusiasts. The foreigners are there for no other purpose than to see and enjoy, while the natives are ready for the first excuse to picnic. They are devoted to excursions, so the little men close their shops, and the little ladies gather the children, and, with the last baby on the mother’s back and the next one strapped to an older sister, they all clatter away to Ueno, where the daintiest shades sweep the air. They wander along the highways, and thousands of clogs resound by the banks of the Sumida, where the branches sweep off to the river, where the pleasure-boats ply the stream. The roadways are dense with the crowding, surging masses, all kindly, all sauntering leisurely, where venders of foods and of toys are making a harvest. It is a living picture of native life, a panorama to enjoy for ever. In such a scene of spontaneous pleasure one comes in touch with real Japan. It is the true life of the people, with nothing artificial made up for the tourist.