This nation is the delight of my soul



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CHAPTER XIII

JAPANESE ARCHITECTURE

There are, perhaps, some superior persons who may consider that Japanese architecture has no claim to be regarded as art. These persons have no conception of art in architecture unless it be Doric, Gothic, Byzantine, Early English, or something of the kind, and unless it be expressed in bricks and mortar. Now Japanese architecture is only wood, but though only wood, as regards its majestic beauty, seemliness, and adaptability to the purposes for which it is intended, it stands unique. Moreover, it is the only timber architecture in the world that has attained in any degree artistic importance. Almost every building in Japan is, or, to speak more accurately, was, constructed of wood--a fact possibly due to the interminable earthquakes to which the country was long, and is still occasionally, subjected. In Japanese architecture no brick or stone is used unless it be for foundations; nevertheless, this restriction to wood material has not prevented the Japanese architects of the past raising stupendous structures which in beauty of adornment and durability have long been the admiration of the Western world. The Temple of Nara, for example, was constructed three hundred years before the foundations of Westminster Abbey were laid. As Dr. Dresser has pertinently remarked in this connection: "What buildings can we show in England which have existed since the eighth century and are yet almost as perfect as when first built? and yet our buildings rest on a solid foundation, and not on earth which is constantly rocked by natural convulsions." The porch of the temple of Todaji is erected upon pillars 100 feet high by 12 feet in circumference, and yet this porch is merely the entrance to another porch equally large, which again is itself the approach to the temple containing an image of Buddha 53 feet high with a halo 83 feet in diameter. The sanctuary of the ancient temple at Nara, already referred to, has columns quite 100 feet high consisting of a single stem. These ancient fanes are not bald architectural ruins. Their decoration, as ancient as the building itself, is quite as permanent. They are ablaze in every part with majestic decorations in gold and all the colours of the rainbow, as gorgeous and impressive now as they were when first applied by the hands of the decorators more than a thousand years ago. As a recent writer on this subject has appositely remarked: "It is in detail the Japanese architect most excels, for if he conceives like a giant he invariably finishes like a jeweller. Every detail to the very nails, which are not dull surfaces but rendered exquisite ornaments, is a work of art. Everywhere we encounter friezes and carvings in relief, representing in quaint colour harmonies flowers and birds, or heavenly spirits playing upon flutes and stringed instruments."

It must often strike the thinking man as a curious fact that these old religious edifices, whether in Europe or the Far East, seem to have a permanence about them such as is not characteristic of modern buildings of the same kind. The reason, I think, must have been that the men who were employed in the designing and construction of these ancient buildings, whether in the East or West, were not mere mercenaries employed for a particular purpose, but men full of faith in their religion, a building in whose honour and for whose services they were employed to erect, and who threw into their work their whole souls, so to speak--gave, in fact, the best of what they had, and employed all their zeal, energy, and enthusiasm with a view of perpetuating, whether in stone, brick, or wood, the faith they so firmly held and so dearly loved.

Some of the problems that the Japanese builders of the past had to face in the erection of a few of the great temples which still adorn the country have proved insoluble to many European engineers and architects. The erection and support of the magnificent pagoda at Nikko is an example in point. Dr. Dresser has referred to this and pointed out what he deemed a great waste of material in connection therewith. He failed to understand for what reason an enormous log of wood ascended in the centre of a structure from its base to the apex--a log of wood about 2 feet in diameter--while near the lower end one equally large was bolted to each of the four sides of the central mass. When Dr. Dresser expressed surprise on the subject he was told that the walls must be strong enough to support the central block; and on his pointing out that the central block was not supported by the sides, he was taken up to the top of the building and the fact demonstrated to him that the huge central mass was suspended like the clapper of a bell. On descending again, while lying on the ground, he saw that there was quite an inch of space between the soil and the great pendulum--a safeguard against damage by earthquake. For many hundreds of years the centre of gravity of this building has, by its swinging, been kept within the base, and the fact shows, were evidence needed, that the Japanese architects who designed this great Nikko Pagoda and similar structures were men of scientific capacities who had thought out every problem connected with the safety and permanence of the building they were employed to design.

The domestic dwellings of the great mass of the Japanese people are of the simplest possible type. They are no doubt evolved from the hut of the Ainos, probably the aborigines of the islands, still to be found in the island of Yesso. There are no walls as we understand the term, the sides being composed, in winter, of amado, or sliding screens made of wood, and in summer of shoji, or oil-paper slides. This enables, in hot weather, the whole of the side of the house to be moved, and the air to be given free ingress and egress. Nor are these habitations divided off into permanent rooms, as in this and other European countries. Paper screens which slide into grooves divide the space according to requirements. The wood-work of these dwellings, which are largely composed of camphor-wood, is both within and without left unpainted, and they generally present a neat and alluring appearance. When one compares the dwelling-places of the poorest inhabitants of Japan with the hovels in this country, and more especially in Ireland, occupied by the peasants, one is really lost in wonder at the ignorance of those persons who call Japan, and no doubt still believe it to have been, an uncivilised country until it was brought intimately into association with Occidental nations.

[Illustration: TEA HOUSE, NEAR TOKIO FROM A PRINT BY HIROSHIGE]

As we ascend in the social scale in Japan we find, of course, a difference in architecture. The principle remains very much the same, but, as might be expected, the buildings are more elaborate and there is a wealth of ornamentation which is absent from those of the lower classes. I am inclined to think that what I may call ecclesiastical art has largely influenced the decoration of the houses of the nobles and upper classes in Japan. Many of the old feudal castles, which were gems of Japanese architecture, no longer exist, but some of those which still remain are exceedingly beautiful specimens of wooden architecture. The castle of Nagoya, built in the early part of the seventeenth century, is supposed to be the finest specimen of the kind in Japan.

But the Japanese never seems to have been overmuch concerned respecting his dwelling. To comprehend the beauty of Japanese architecture, to see it in its purity and to realise all the grandeur that can be crowded into it, it is necessary to study it in the religious edifices of the country. Plainness is the characteristic of the Shinto temple; built as a rule of pine, it has a thatched roof. The fact of its being an edifice of the Shinto religion is self-evident from the torii which stand before every Shinto temple. There are no idols or exterior ornamentation of any kind. The walls are left untouched by either the painter or the lacquerer. In the Buddhist temples, on the contrary, the Japanese artist has had afforded him full scope for the exercise of his ornamental ingenuity. Numerous courtyards have to be traversed before reaching the temple itself. These courtyards contain many small buildings, bronze or stone lanterns, belfries, pavilions, pagodas, &c., &c., all elaborately decorated. Amongst the supplementary buildings connected with, but occasionally independent of, Buddhist temples, none is more interesting than the pagoda so intimately associated with Buddhism in every part of the Far East and so typically Oriental in its architecture. What may have been the precise origin of these five- or seven-storied erections, for what purpose they were intended, or what symbolism, if any, they were the expression of, is now largely a matter of conjecture. No one who has visited the East can at any rate have failed to be impressed by them. In Japan where, save the lower storey, the whole is lacquered red, they are a striking feature of the country. The lower storey, by the way, is decorated with numerous painted carvings. Topping the whole building is the twisted spire of bronze.

Like most other things in Japan, the origin and development of the architecture of the country is lost in the twilight of obscurity. Korea appears to have influenced Japanese architecture, just as it has Japanese art of various kinds. It is an extraordinary fact that this portion of Asia contiguous to the Japanese islands, which has for so many hundreds of years past exercised such a subtle influence on the art and industries of Japan, should at the commencement of the twentieth century have passed under the suzerainty of that country. When one fully comprehends the connection in various ways of Korea with Japan in all the past centuries, one begins to understand the sentimental feeling which has influenced the whole nation in regard to the possibility of Korea passing under the domination of any other Power. At the beginning of the third century Korea was invaded by Japan and, although the country was then conquered, it, as has not infrequently under similar circumstances happened in history, exercised a potent effect on both the art and architecture of Japan. Korean architecture, of course, was not original; it was based on that of China, which in its turn came from Burmah, and that again probably from India. In the course of the seventh century, however, the imported architecture more or less assumed the general style which has since remained distinctly Japanese and although it undoubtedly embodies everything that was best in the architecture of the countries from which it derived its essential features, appears to me to have an originality of its own. No man who has not visited the great temples at Shiba and Nikko can understand to what heights of sublimity wooden architecture can rise, what a gorgeous tout ensemble can be accomplished by harmonious colour schemes deftly blended by artists who had made a study of colour and all the details connected therewith, and knew how to render a picturesque effect which should be imposing without being either gaudy or glaring.

I am afraid that the results of Western civilisation have been, and will continue to be, fatal to Japanese architects. Judging by the buildings which have been erected in the country since Western influences have reigned supreme Japanese architecture is not only dead but buried. These edifices--hotels, Government buildings, railway stations and so on, are an attempt to combine Western and Japanese styles. The result is an incongruity, to express it mildly, sufficient to cause the artistic mind to shudder. The men who built the temples at Shiba, at Nikko, and in various other parts of the country, and the pagodas which dot the land, are dead, and have left no successors. There is nothing, in my opinion, that is more likely to be influenced, and more injuriously influenced, by Western ideas than the architecture of Japan. There is a tendency in the country to erect European buildings, and I suppose it is one that it is impossible to complain of. The Japanese houses, although they have advantages in the summer-time, are undoubtedly not well fitted to withstand the rigours of winter; and I have no doubt that, from the standpoint of material comfort, a replacement of them by buildings erected on European lines might be an advantage. But from the artistic point of view such a change is one impossible to contemplate without a feeling of regret.

There is, of course, no human possibility of temples such as those at Shiba and Nikko ever again being erected in Japan. As I have previously remarked, buildings such as these are something more than mere material constructions; they are the embodiment in material form of a living faith which the designers and builders attempted to set forth in their work. An age of disbelief, of indifference, of agnosticism, is not conducive to the construction of such edifices. We need not go to Japan for evidence of that obvious fact. The hideous monstrosities in the shape of cathedrals, churches, and chapels that have been built in this country during the past century or two are abundant proof, were any needed, that the faith and piety whose outward and visible manifestation is to be seen in Westminster Abbey, Canterbury Cathedral, York Minster, and various other noble architectural fanes is no longer with us; it has gone, and, apparently, inspiration with it. We can now only construct walls, and put roofs on them--admirable edifices, no doubt, to keep out the rain, but signifying nothing from an artistic or idealistic point of view. And so it is in regard to Japan. Architecture there, considered as an art, is dead. It may be imitated or reproduced, but the reproduction will impose on no person of artistic sensibilities or knowledge, any more than a Sheraton reproduction hailing from the Tottenham Court Road would impose on a connoisseur as the genuine work of that great artist in furniture.

The art of Japan has, especially since the opening up of the country, been closely studied and investigated, and many learned tomes have been written concerning it. I do not, however, think that the art of the country as expressed in its architecture has received anything like the attention it deserves. This may possibly arise from the fact, to which I have already referred, that many people have what I may term a restricted definition or conception of art. Others there are, again, who consider wooden architecture to be almost a contradiction in terms. Words or definitions in a matter of this kind seem to me to be childish. The lover of the beautiful, the admirer of the historic, the investigator of the ebb and flow of religious systems and of the sentiments and spirit that have influenced and moulded them at different periods of their existence, can in the ancient wooden temples of Japan find abundant material for enjoyment, instruction, reflection. I have no hesitation in including these buildings in that surely expansive and comprehensive term, Art.

CHAPTER XIV

POSTAL AND OTHER MEANS OF COMMUNICATION

The advancement of a nation, may, I think, be accurately gauged by the facilities it possesses or has developed for the communication of its inhabitants, either by personal intercourse or those other means which science has of late years discovered or evolved for the transmission of thought, whether on business or otherwise--the letter post, the telegraph, and the telephone. I accordingly purpose briefly describing the extent to which, in these respects, Japan has assimilated and utilised Western ideas.

I have already touched on the matter of railway communication, so I will not again refer to it in any detail. I may, however, remark that although railways in Japan have done much to open up the country and provide for more frequent and rapid intercourse between man and man, they still lack much in the matter of European ideas of comfort. There are three classes of carriages, and the fares of each are extremely low. The gauge is narrow; the carriages are open, as in America, with one long seat running down each side and a shorter one at the end. In the first-class carriages tea is provided, a kettle and tea-pot wherein to make the beverage being placed on the floor between the seats for the use of passengers. No doubt ere long the Japanese will be more impressed than they appear to be at present as to the necessity for express trains, high speeds, Pullman and restaurant cars, as well as for other now indispensable characteristics of English and American railways. The initial railway line in Japan was that between Yokohama and the capital. It was popular and well patronised from the first, in contradistinction to the record of railways in China, where the initial line--that between Shanghai and Wusung--had to be bought up and pulled up by the Chinese authorities, in view of the number of Chinamen who persisted in committing suicide by placing themselves in front of the train as a protest--and a most effective protest, it must be admitted--against the introduction into their country of this contrivance of the "foreign devils." The contrast in the manner in which the introduction of railways was received in China and Japan respectively is, I think, characteristic of the difference in the disposition and mental attitude of the people of the two countries.

A postal service modelled on that of Europe was inaugurated in Japan in 1871 by the introduction of a Government letter post between Tokio, Kyoto, Osaka, and Yokohama. Arrangements had, of course, long previously existed for the transmission of official correspondence throughout the country, but private letters were conveyed by private carriers. The following year the official postal service was extended to the whole of Japan, but not till twelve months later were private carriers abolished and the post-office, with all its various ramifications, constituted a State monopoly. Postcards, embossed envelopes, newspaper wrappers, and all the paraphernalia--so far as they had then been developed--of European post-offices were adopted by the Japanese postal authorities, and caught on with the people with surprising rapidity. In 1875 mail steamers were established between Japan and the Chinese ports, and the next year Japan, which at that time had, as I have elsewhere mentioned, to view post-offices established in the treaty ports, herself planted Japanese post-offices in both China and Korea. The Postal Union was joined in 1877, and from that time the Japanese post-office has developed, pari passu with the post-offices of European countries until at the present time it is in some respects ahead of them in the matter of enterprise and the facilities it affords. The Inland Parcel Post was established in 1892, and it has had a marked effect in the opening up of the country and the familiarising of the people with many commodities, principally European, of which they had previously no knowledge. At the present time there are considerably over 6,000 post-offices. About a thousand millions of letters and postcards--a favourite means of communication--are handled yearly. The number of parcels at present sent through the post amounts to about eleven millions annually.

Every description of post-office business as known in Europe is not only transacted in Japan, but, so far as results go to show, each new phase seems to fill a distinct want on the part of the people. Take the matter of postal orders for example, the introduction of which in this country was so vigorously opposed by the banking community, but a facility which has proved of incalculable utility and convenience to the mass of the public. Postal orders, when introduced into Japan, quickly came into favour. In the first year only a certain number of offices were authorised to issue and to pay these orders. This number has now been largely increased, and many millions of postal orders are at present annually sold in Japan. The International Postal Order Service has also assumed considerable dimensions, and has largely aided, I think, in the industrial and commercial development of the country.

Post Office Savings Banks were established in Japan as far back as 1875. The object, as in this country, was to encourage thrift among the mass of the people. The maximum deposit in one year of any depositor is limited to 500 yen (about £50). The Post Office Savings Bank has been largely utilised, and both the number of depositors and the sums deposited continue to grow on a scale which shows that the utility and benefit of this institution are greatly appreciated by the Japanese people. At first the Savings Bank was worked at a loss; it took time to develop, while in its infancy banking methods were probably not as well understood by the Japanese authorities as they now are. At the present time the Post Office Savings Bank in Japan is so worked that it not only pays all its expenses but returns a profit to the national exchequer. In this respect it very favourably compares with the Post Office Savings Bank as administered in this country, which is not only worked at a loss, but, owing to various causes, has entailed a liability, nominal though it be, on the British taxpayer.

Telegraphs were first introduced into Japan in 1869, and, as was the custom at that time in almost all countries, the telegraph followed the railway. The first line was between the capital and Yokohama. As time progressed some steps were taken in the direction of developing the system, but it was not until 1878 that the telegraph service in Japan was placed on a proper footing. In 1879 the International Telegraph Union was entered. At the present time Japan is covered by a network of telegraph wires, and every important island is in communication with the capital. Telegrams may be sent either in the Japanese or European languages. Like every other means of communication, the telegraph has been rapidly adopted by the Japanese people, and it now forms such a part of the national life that it is almost impossible to imagine the country without a telegraph system. There are about 2,600 telegraph offices in Japan, and over twenty million messages are annually despatched therefrom. I think it will be admitted that--especially in view of the difficulties occasioned by the necessity of the operators in the telegraph offices being conversant to some extent with the characteristics of two absolutely different descriptions of languages--the progress made by Japan, and the development and extension of the telegraph service of the country, have been really remarkable.

When the question of introducing telephones into Japan came up for consideration it was treated somewhat more practically than was the case with reference to a similar matter in this country. There was there as here a difference of opinion as to whether telephonic communication should be left to private enterprise or be constituted a Government monopoly. After somewhat prolonged investigation it was decided that the telephone service should be set up and worked by the Government, and in the year 1890 the first telephone, that between Tokio and Yokohama, was opened. At first, strange to say, this new device of Western civilisation appears somewhat to have hung fire, and no general demand sprung up for the fitting of the telephone to private houses. It required, as indeed was the case in this country, some education of the people in regard to the paramount advantages of always having this means of communication at hand. The process of education in this respect was not prolonged. Before the telephone had been many years in the country the demand for its installation in houses and offices became so great that the Government had to obtain a special grant of money in order to carry out the necessary work. According to the latest returns there are somewhere about 350 telephone offices open to the public, while the approximate number of messages transmitted is about 150,000,000. The time is not far distant when, as I think will also be the case in this country, the telephone will be deemed to be an indispensable adjunct of almost every house in the towns of Japan.

In connection with the means of communication one or two remarks in reference to tramways may not be out of place. These are entirely, or almost entirely, electric, and have certainly, if we are to judge by the patronage accorded to them, been very favourably received by the Japanese people. According to the latest returns I have available there were twenty-two tramway companies in Japan, which between them, in the year 1904, carried the very respectable total of over 73,000,000 passengers. All of these lines save one are electric. The first electric tramway, that in Kyoto, was opened in 1895, so that the development of the country in this direction has proceeded rapidly. The Tokio Electric Tramway Company pays a dividend of 11 per cent., and although this is a record which some of the other lines have not yet attained, and may not possibly attain, nevertheless these matters must not be altogether looked at from the point of view of dividends. The shareholder very probably regards them from that standpoint, but I suggest that the facilities given to a town may be as great or even greater by a tramway paying 2, or 3, or 5 per cent. as by one paying double that figure. Indeed, large dividends are often earned by cutting down expenditure or abstaining from expenditure designed to increase the facilities of passengers. There is every prospect of electric tramways being extended to every town of any importance in Japan, and I am confident they will greatly aid in the industrial development of the land.

[Illustration: ÆRIAL TRANSPORT; BASKET SLUNG ON ROPES, PROVINCE OF HIDA FROM A PRINT BY HIROSHIGE]

I cannot leave a consideration of the means of communication in Japan without making some reference to that somewhat peculiar vehicle which is by so many persons deemed to be essentially characteristic of the country, although, as a matter of fact, I believe it is of comparatively recent introduction, having been introduced either by a European or an American; I refer, of course, to the jinricksha. Before Japan became to so great an extent the objective point of the globe-trotter, and Europe, through the medium of numerous books, was rendered conversant with everything relating to the country, nothing more struck the imagination of the new arrival in Japan than the sight of this extraordinary vehicle--a kind of armchair on wheels with two shafts, pulled by a man scantily clad and with extremely muscular legs. Whoever was the individual responsible for the invention of the jinricksha, he certainly conferred a great boon on all foreigners resident in Japan before railways and tramways and other means of communication became as prevalent as they now are. The long distances traversed by the man between the shafts of a jinricksha and the speed he attained and maintained were almost a marvel to the foreign visitor. It was possible to get about the country in one of these vehicles quite as fast as any horse-drawn vehicle could convey one, and quite as comfortably. I have heard it stated that the men who pull these vehicles unduly develop their legs at the expense of other portions of their body, and that the speed at which they run and which they certainly keep up for extraordinarily long periods has extremely injurious effects on their constitution, so that they are, as a rule, not long-lived. I am not aware, nor have I been able to ascertain, whether such statements are mere theories or have any foundation in fact. This much I will say, that the Japanese jinricksha-runners are an extraordinary class in reference to the speed which they attain dragging a goodly weight for a very long distance. It does not seem likely that the jinricksha, acclimatised as it has been in Japan, will be ousted by other modern contrivances for getting about the country. It is still very much in evidence, and it is universally admitted by those who have had experience of it to be a most comfortable means of locomotion. Why it has never come into favour, at least to any extent, elsewhere than in Japan I have never been able to understand. Certainly jinrickshas can be hired at Shanghai, and they are to be seen at one or two other places in the Far East, but it may be regarded as a distinctly Japanese vehicle, although, as I have said, there is nothing Japanese about it excepting its adaptation in the country.

I remarked at the commencement of this chapter that we may properly gauge the progress of a nation by the facilities it possesses or has developed for inter-communication personally and otherwise. I hope the few remarks I have made on this head may enable my readers to form some idea as to the position of Japan in this matter. I have not wearied them with statistics, but I have, I think, said enough to show that in everything relating to communication, whether it be the locomotion of the individual or the facilities given to him to communicate his wishes, desires, aspirations, sentiments, Japan is now well in line with all the other great civilised Powers, and has reason to be proud of the progress she has made and the manner in which she has adapted to the requirements of her people the ideas and inventions she has obtained from Europe and America.




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