Japan As They Saw It

Crows

    What irritating crows! Their numbers and their impudence! All day long they are infesting the roofs and grounds, and filling the air with their supercilious croaks. One comes close to the window, gives a sidelong glance, and then flies away crying ‘Haw! haw!’ in the most insulting tone imaginable, finally settling on the roof-ridge opposite and shaking its sides in mock laughter, as with an insolent stare it continues its provoking ‘Haw! haw!’ Another must have alighted above my own chimney, for there reverberates with sepulchral echo down the vent a croak which, if it has any meaning at all, denotes ‘Get out of that!’ And if I go out for a walk, they fly round my head jeering and strut in front of me jeering, making, as clearly as Mark Twain’s blue jay, insulting personal remarks like, ‘What a hat!’ ‘Put him out!’ It is quite evident that these crows are violent anti-foreigners. And, unlike the men among whom they have been brought up, they have no manners to keep their resentment in check. It must be confessed, however, that they have some reason for their conservatism. The teachings of Buddhism have no doubt been at the bottom of the immemorial liberty which they have enjoyed. But really their impudence is beyond all bounds. No wonder that one of my American friends got desperate, and, loading a pistol, shot one of the persecutors dead. But what was the result? For the rest of the day that man’s house was dinned with the wails and maledictions of the deceased crow’s relatives and friends. They came from far and near, hundreds of them, and stamped up and down in front of the house, and lamented over the corpse, and held indignation meetings on the roof and surrounding trees. Conduct like this, however, must ere long lead to a crisis. This came one day when the Mikado was holding a review. What can have possessed the bird it is impossible to say—perhaps its resentment against foreigners had driven it mad—but, however inexplicable, the fact remains, that a crow, flying across the parade ground, committed the unspeakable offence of dropping some defilement on the sacred person of the Son of Heaven! The courtiers stood aghast. It is hardly necessary to add that, that very day there went forth an imperial edict for the extermination of the hateful birds. Thus did the first offence of insulting foreigners culminate in the capital offence of insulting the Emperor, and the consequent sentence of death.

William Gray Dixon, The Land of the Morning: An Account of Japan and Its People, Based on a Four Years’ Residence in That Country, Including Travels into the Remotest Parts of the Interior, 1882

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