Japan As They Saw It

“one of the great sights of the empire”

    Besides the processions, pack-horses, and palanquins, the pedestrians on the Tokaido demand our attention. Some are crowned with queer-looking broad-brimmed straw hats; others have napkins tied round their heads, and their hats slung behind their backs, only to be used when it rains or when the sun’s rays are disagreeably powerful; while others again have the head bare and shaven in front, with the little pigtail brought forward and tied down upon the crown. Mendicant priests are met with, chanting prayers at every door, jingling some rings on the top of a tall staff, and begging for alms for the support of themselves and their temples. These are most independent-looking fellows, and seem to think themselves conferring a favour rather than receiving one. I observed that they were rarely refused alms by the people, although the same priests came round almost daily. To me the prayer seemed to be always the same namely, nam-nam-nam; sometimes sung in a low key, and sometimes in a high one. When the little copper cash—the coin of the country—was thrown into the tray of the priest, he gave one more prayer, apparently for the charity he had received, jingled his rings, and then went on to the next door. Blind men are also common, who give notice of their approach by making a peculiar sound upon a reed. These men generally get their living by shampooing their more fortunate brethren who can see. Every now and then a group of sturdy beggars, each having an old straw mat thrown across his shoulders, come into the stream which flows along this great highway. Then there is the flower-dealer, with his basket of pretty flowers, endeavouring to entice the ladies to purchase them for the decoration of their hair; or with his branches of “skimmi” (Illicium anisatum), and other evergreens, which are largely used to ornament the tombs of the dead.
    All day long, and during a great part of the night too, this continual living stream flows to and from the great capital of Japan along the imperial highway. It forms a panorama of no common kind, and is certainly one of the great sights of the empire.

Robert Fortune, Yedo and Peking, 1863

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