Friday, July 27, 2007

Japan and Her People Now Available

Japan and Her People by Anna C. Hartshorne is now available at

This is a reprint of the original 1902 edition, published by Jetlag press, and features a new introduction by Lian Hearn. The book is a combination of travelogue, cultural examination, and history of Japan. The following is an excerpt:

“This big, dreary city of innumerable little houses.”—La Farge, “Letters of an Artist.”

SMALL blame to the four weeks’ tourist if he loves not Tokyo. Its stock sights are only half a dozen or so—the Asakusa and Shiba temples, the moat, Uyeno Park, the tombs of the Forty-seven Ronin, a feast and the geisha’s “butterfly dance” at the Maple Club, Danjuro at the big theatre, or the wrestlers over in Mukojima—this last amusement distinctly not for ladies—cherry blossoms, iris, lotus or chrysanthemums “in season,” as the caterers say of game. These attractions are scattered over the length and breadth of a city measuring five or six miles radius every way from Nihonbashi Bridge, every part of which, to unaccustomed eyes, looks exactly like all the restólow roofed, gray, interminable.
The foreign resident, too, finds plenty to growl about—heat and cold, dust and rain, and, worst of all, the weary jinrikisha rides over those endless distances. Yet, granting all shortcomings, the great city exercises a fascination of its own—a charm made up of quaint lanes and mysterious turnings, of tide-water canals busy with odd craft, of hills and green hedges and tall trees rising like islands out of the gray sea of roofs, a glamor of flooding sunlight that is never glare, of hazy twilights and the firefly dance of lanterns in the dark; everywhere, and most of all, the picturesque come and go of its streets, the spell of its vivid, throbbing life.
There is a tale of a traveler who rode over Tokyo for three days, and then went away in despair, saying he could not find any city; he saw only suburbs. The fact is, it is not a city really, but rather a bunch of villages clustering round the moat and the castle, which have grown together and melted into each other till nobody can say where one stops and the other begins. Each part has still its own temples, its local guilds, local festivals, local industries, sometimes even special customs of its own—all, of course, coming under the general management of the central city government.
Perhaps this persistent individuality is less strange when one stops to realize what a comparatively recent place it is, after all—that before Tokugawa Ieyasu’s time, only a matter of two or three hundred years ago, there was nothing here but a small castle and an insignificant fishing village. Beside Kyoto’s record of ten centuries Tokyo is an upstart, a mere parvenue, like the Tokugawa themselves who created it. Then, too, the broken hill-and-dale quality of the ground may have helped to keep the villages distinct, as well as the innumerable creeks and intersecting canals which cut its lower portions.
It must be remembered, however, that though the Tokugawa made Yedo what it was, they did not actually discover the place for themselves; the real founder was one Ota Dokwan, a vassal of the powerful Uyesugi family, whose provinces lay further to the north. This Ota perceived the strategic possibilities of the situation, and built a small castle on the central hill. Later this changed hands once or twice, but was never a place of much importance till it was given over to Tokugawa Ieyasu about a hundred years after. Ieyasu took possession in 1590, and his first care was to strengthen Ota’s site by digging the moats deeper and raising the great walls; his next to level part of the neighboring hills and fill the swampy places round about. Under his firm rule Yedo grew rapidly, and was a prosperous city even before Iemitsu’s “compulsory residence” law compelled all Daimyo to maintain their permanent households in his capital.
“Easier to take than to defend,” Some one wrote lately of Yedo Castle. He was thinking doubtless of modern warfare; for, as compared with the other strongholds of its period—such as Osaka and Nagoya, or Odawara, which was the seat of the Hojo Regents—Yedo was quite as well fortified, and had far the best situation of them all. Had, not has; for as a castle it no longer exists. In 1873 a fire, which started by accident, burned the great keep and all the more important buildings, and only the walls and gates remain around the Imperial palace which has been built on the same site. Six times before this the castle was burned, the first time being in 1601. Ieyasu was then in possession, but did not receive the title of Shogun till a couple of years later. On that occasion, not only the castle, but nearly the whole town was burned, and, according to tradition, tiled roofs were introduced soon after; but for a long time they were only used on the houses of nobles. Shingles, however, were substituted for thatch as being a little easier to keep from catching fire.
Whether strong or not, Yedo Castle never experienced an actual siege. Built at the beginning of the “great peace,” no enemy ever came against it till 1869, when General Saigo led one wing of the Imperial army over the Hakone Pass to chastise the rebellious Tokugawa. Saigo encamped on the edge of the city, at Shinagawa, where his master, the Prince of Satsuma, had a yashiki, and demanded possession in the Emperor’s name. Prince Tokugawa was in a very uncomfortable position. He had already declared that he would not disobey the Emperor, but his retainers and allies—among them the fierce Aidzu Samurai—refused to accept his order to lay down their arms, declaring the Emperor was coerced by the hated Satsuma. The city hummed with conspiracy, spies were in every household and no one knew whom he dared trust. The man who saved the situation was a Hatamoto, or retainer of the Shogun, named Katsu—one of the most remarkable men Japan has ever produced. Educated by Dutch teachers at the naval school in Nagasaki, Katsu had already been to San Francisco as captain of the first Japanese ship which ever crossed the Pacific—a gunboat of two hundred and fifty tons and one hundred horse power. On his return, his pro-foreign utterances brought on him the wrath of the Bakufu, and he was degraded and afterward confined to his own house; but his brains and courage were too valuable to be spared long. Saigo was his personal friend, and he had many other friends, and even followers, in the Satsuma Clan, besides holding the respect and confidence of his own side.
So, one morning, Count Katsu mounted his horse and rode alone to Saigo’s camp at Shinagawa, and the two talked together as man to man. “I believe my old friend is at his wits’ end by this time,” Saigo is reported to have said, and” Only by placing yourself in my position can you understand where I am,” replied Katsu, whereupon the general “bursts into a peal of laughter.” A few days later Katsu took Saigo up Atago Hill, a mile or two nearer the castle, and together they looked over the vast expanse of the city spread at their feet. “If we cross swords, these innocent people will have to suffer,” said Saigo, and he was silent for a little. Shortly after he went back to his chief, Prince Arisugawa, and arranged terms of peace along the lines Katsu had proposed. The city was to be spared, and in return the castle and the fleet were to be given up, and the ex-Shogun to retire to Mito, another head being appointed for the Tokugawa family. The castle was accordingly handed over, but the fleet—a handful of vessels—was carried off by the officer in charge and held for some time longer; and there was fighting at Uyeno Park, and afterward at Utsunomiya and in Aidzu, before the clans finally gave up the struggle.

Japan and Her People by Anna C. Hartshorne, Edited by C. West and B. Massey, with introduction by Lian Hearn

  • Publisher: Jetlag Press (May 1, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 097903972X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0979039720
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 0.6 inches