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Chapter 3


THE EDGE OF THE EAST


The mist was clearing off Yokohama harbour and a hundred junks had their
sails hoisted for the morning breeze, and the veiled horizon was
stippled with square blurs of silver. An English man-of-war showed
blue-white on then haze, so new was the daylight, and all the water lay
out as smooth as the inside of an oyster shell. Two children in blue and
white, their tanned limbs pink in the fresh air, sculled a marvellous
boat of lemon-hued wood, and that was our fairy craft to the shore
across the stillness and the mother o' pearl levels.

There are ways and ways of entering Japan. The best is to descend upon
it from America and the Pacific--from the barbarians and the deep sea.
Coming from the East, the blaze of India and the insolent tropical
vegetation of Singapore dull the eye to half-colours and little tones.
It is at Bombay that the smell of All Asia boards the ship miles off
shore, and holds the passenger's nose till he is clear of Asia again.
That is a violent, and aggressive smell, apt to prejudice the stranger,
but kin none the less to the gentle and insinuating flavour that stole
across the light airs of the daybreak when the fairy boat went to
shore--a smell of very clean new wood; split bamboo, wood-smoke, damp
earth, and the things that people who are not white people eat--a
homelike and comforting smell. Then followed on shore the sound of an
Eastern tongue, that is beautiful or not as you happen to know it. The
Western races have many languages, but a crowd of Europeans heard
through closed doors talk with the Western pitch and cadence. So it is
with the East. A line of jinrickshaw coolies sat in the sun discoursing
to each other, and it was as though they were welcoming a return in
speech that the listener must know as well as English. They talked and
they talked, but the ghosts of familiar words would not grow any clearer
till presently the Smell came down the open streets again, saying that
this was the East where nothing matters, and trifles old as the Tower of
Babel mattered less than nothing, and that there were old acquaintances
waiting at every corner beyond the township. Great is the Smell of the
East! Railways, telegraphs, docks, and gunboats cannot banish it, and it
will endure till the railways are dead. He who has not smelt that smell
has never lived.

Three years ago Yokohama was sufficiently Europeanised in its shops to
suit the worst and wickedest taste. To-day it is still worse if you keep
to the town limits. Ten steps beyond into the fields all the
civilisation stops exactly as it does in another land a few thousand
miles further West. The globe-trotting, millionaires anxious to spend
money, with a hose on whatever caught their libertine fancies, had
explained to us aboard-ship that they came to Japan in haste, advised by
their guide-books to do so, lest the land should be suddenly civilised
between steamer-sailing and steamer-sailing. When they touched land they
ran away to the curio shops to buy things which are prepared for
them--mauve and magenta and blue-vitriol things. By this time they have
a 'Murray' under one arm and an electric-blue eagle with a copperas beak
and a yellow '_E pluribus unum_' embroidered on apple-green silk, under
the other.

We, being wise, sit in a garden that is not ours, but belongs to a
gentleman in slate-coloured silk, who, solely for the sake of the
picture, condescends to work as a gardener, in which employ he is
sweeping delicately a welt of fallen cherry blossoms from under an
azalea aching to burst into bloom. Steep stone steps, of the colour that
nature ripens through long winters, lead up to this garden by way of
clumps of bamboo grass. You see the Smell was right when it talked of
meeting old friends. Half-a-dozen blue-black pines are standing akimbo
against a real sky--not a fog-blur nor a cloud-bank, nor a gray
dish-clout wrapped round the sun--but a blue sky. A cherry tree on a
slope below them throws up a wave of blossom that breaks all creamy
white against their feet, and a clump of willows trail their palest
green shoots in front of all. The sun sends for an ambassador through
the azalea bushes a lordly swallow-tailed butterfly, and his squire
very like the flitting 'chalk-blue' of the English downs. The warmth of
the East, that goes through, not over, the lazy body, is added to the
light of the East--the splendid lavish light that clears but does not
bewilder the eye. Then the new leaves of the spring wink like fat
emeralds and the loaded branches of cherry-bloom grow transparent and
glow as a hand glows held up against flame. Little, warm sighs come up
from the moist, warm earth, and the fallen petals stir on the ground,
turn over, and go to sleep again. Outside, beyond the foliage, where the
sunlight lies on the slate-coloured roofs, the ridged rice-fields beyond
the roofs, and the hills beyond the rice-fields, is all Japan--only all
Japan; and this that they call the old French Legation is the Garden of
Eden that most naturally dropped down here after the Fall. For some
small hint of the beauties to be shown later there is the roof of a
temple, ridged and fluted with dark tiles, flung out casually beyond the
corner of the bluff on which the garden stands. Any other curve of the
eaves would not have consorted with the sweep of the pine branches;
therefore, this curve was made, and being made, was perfect. The
congregation of the globe-trotters are in the hotel, scuffling for
guides, in order that they may be shown the sights of Japan, which is
all one sight. They must go to Tokio, they must go to Nikko; they must
surely see all that is to be seen and then write home to their barbarian
families that they are getting used to the sight of bare, brown legs.
Before this day is ended, they will all, thank goodness, have splitting
headaches and burnt-out eyes. It is better to lie still and hear the
grass grow--to soak in the heat and the smell and the sounds and the
sights that come unasked.

Our garden overhangs the harbour, and by pushing aside one branch we
look down upon a heavy-sterned fishing-boat, the straw-gold mats of the
deck-house pushed back to show the perfect order and propriety of the
housekeeping that is going forward. The father-fisher, sitting
frog-fashion, is poking at a tiny box full of charcoal, and the light,
white ash is blown back into the face of a largish Japanese doll, price
two shillings and threepence in Bayswater. The doll wakes, turns into a
Japanese baby something more valuable than money could buy--a baby with
a shaven head and aimless legs. It crawls to the thing in the polished
brown box, is picked up just as it is ready to eat live coals, and is
set down behind a thwart, where it drums upon a bucket, addressing the
firebox from afar. Half-a-dozen cherry blossoms slide off a bough, and
waver down to the water close to the Japanese doll, who in another
minute will be overside in pursuit of these miracles. The father-fisher
has it by the pink hind leg, and this time it is tucked away, all but
the top-knot, out of sight among umber nets and sepia cordage. Being an
Oriental it makes no protest, and the boat scuds out to join the little
fleet in the offing.

Then two sailors of a man-of-war come along the sea face, lean over the
canal below the garden, spit, and roll away. The sailor in port is the
only superior man. To him all matters rare and curious are either 'them
things' or 'them other things.' He does not hurry himself, he does not
seek Adjectives other than those which custom puts into his mouth for
all occasions; but the beauty of life penetrates his being insensibly
till he gets drunk, falls foul of the local policeman, smites him into
the nearest canal, and disposes of the question of treaty revision with
a hiccup. All the same, Jack says that he has a grievance against the
policeman, who is paid a dollar for every strayed seaman he brings up to
the Consular Courts for overstaying his leave, and so forth. Jack says
that the little fellows deliberately hinder him from getting back to his
ship, and then with devilish art and craft of wrestling tricks--'there
are about a hundred of 'em, and they can throw you with every qualified
one'--carry him to justice. Now when Jack is softened with drink he does
not tell lies. This is his grievance, and he says that them blanketed
consuls ought to know. 'They plays into each other's hands, and stops
you at the Hatoba'--the policemen do. The visitor who is neither a
seaman nor drunk, cannot swear to the truth of this, or indeed anything
else. He moves not only among fascinating scenes and a lovely people
but, as he is sure to find out before he has been a day ashore, between
stormy questions. Three years ago there were no questions that were not
going to be settled off-hand in a blaze of paper lanterns. The
Constitution was new. It has a gray, pale cover with a chrysanthemum at
the back, and a Japanese told me then, 'Now we have Constitution same as
other countries, and _so_ it is all right. Now we are quite civilised
because of Constitution.'

[A perfectly irrelevant story comes to mind here. Do you know that in
Madeira once they had a revolution which lasted just long enough for the
national poet to compose a national anthem, and then was put down? All
that is left of the revolt now is the song that you hear on the
twangling _nachettes_, the baby-banjoes, of a moonlight night under the
banana fronds at the back of Funchal. And the high-pitched nasal refrain
of it is 'Consti-tuci-_oun_!']

Since that auspicious date it seems that the questions have
impertinently come up, and the first and the last of them is that of
Treaty Revision. Says the Japanese Government, 'Only obey our laws, our
new laws that we have carefully compiled from all the wisdom of the
West, and you shall go up country as you please and trade where you
will, instead of living cooped up in concessions and being judged by
consuls. Treat us as you would treat France or Germany, and we will
treat you as our own subjects.'

Here, as you know, the matter rests between the two thousand foreigners
and the forty million Japanese--a God-send to all editors of Tokio and
Yokohama, and the despair of the newly arrived in whose nose, remember,
is the smell of the East, One and Indivisible, Immemorial, Eternal, and,
above all, Instructive.

Indeed, it is only by walking out at least half a mile that you escape
from the aggressive evidences of civilisation, and come out into the
rice-fields at the back of the town. Here men with twists of blue and
white cloth round their heads are working knee deep in the thick black
mud. The largest field may be something less than two tablecloths, while
the smallest is, say, a speck of undercliff, on to which it were hard to
back a 'rickshaw, wrested from the beach and growing its clump of barley
within spray-shot of the waves. The field paths are the trodden tops of
the irrigating cuts, and the main roads as wide as two perambulators
abreast. From the uplands--the beautiful uplands planted in exactly the
proper places with pine and maple--the ground comes down in terraced
pocket on pocket of rich earth to the levels again, and it would seem
that every heavily-thatched farmhouse was chosen with special regard to
the view. If you look closely when the people go to work you will see
that a household spreads itself over plots, maybe, a quarter of a mile
apart. A revenue map of a village shows that this scatteration is
apparently designed, but the reason is not given. One thing at least is
certain. The assessment of these patches can be no light piece of
work--just the thing, in fact, that would give employment to a large
number of small and variegated Government officials, any one of whom,
assuming that he was of an Oriental cast of mind, might make the
cultivator's life interesting. I remember now--a second-time-seen place
brings back things that were altogether buried--seeing three years ago
the pile of Government papers required in the case of one farm. They
were many and systematic, but the interesting thing about them was the
amount of work that they must have furnished to those who were neither
cultivators nor Treasury officials.

If one knew Japanese, one could collogue with that gentleman in the
straw-hat and the blue loincloth who is chopping within a sixteenth of
an inch of his naked toes with the father and mother of all weed-spuds.
His version of local taxation might be inaccurate, but it would sure to
be picturesque. Failing his evidence, be pleased to accept two or three
things that may or may not be facts of general application. They differ
in a measure from statements in the books. The present land-tax is
nominally 2-1/2 per cent, payable in cash on a three, or as some say a
five, yearly settlement. But, according to certain officials, there has
been no settlement since 1875. Land lying fallow for a season pays the
same tax as land in cultivation, unless it is unproductive through flood
or calamity (read earthquake here). The Government tax is calculated on
the capital value of the land, taking a measure of about 11,000 square
feet or a quarter of an acre as the unit.

Now, one of the ways of getting at the capital value of the land is to
see what the railways have paid for it. The very best rice land, taking
the Japanese dollar at three shillings, is about 65:10s per acre.
Unirrigated land for vegetable growing is something over 9:12s., and
forest 2:11s. As these are railway rates, they may be fairly held to
cover large areas. In private sales the prices may reasonably be higher.

It is to be remembered that some of the very best rice land will bear
two crops of rice in the year. Most soil will bear two crops, the first
being millet, rape, vegetables, and so on, sown on dry soil and ripening
at the end of May. Then the ground is at once prepared for the wet crop,
to be harvested in October or thereabouts. Land-tax is payable in two
instalments. Rice land pays between the 1st November and the middle of
December and the 1st January and the last of February. Other land pays
between July and August and September and December. Let us see what the
average yield is. The gentleman in the sun-hat and the loin-cloth would
shriek at the figures, but they are approximately accurate. Rice
naturally fluctuates a good deal, but it may be taken in the rough at
five Japanese dollars (fifteen shillings) per _koku_ of 330 lbs. Wheat
and maize of the first spring crop is worth about eleven shillings per
_koku_. The first crop gives nearly 1-3/4 _koku_ per _tau_ (the quarter
acre unit of measurement aforesaid), or eighteen shillings per quarter
acre, or 3:12s. per acre. The rice crop at two _koku_ or 1:10s. the
quarter acre gives 6 an acre. Total 9:12s. This is not altogether bad
if you reflect that the land in question is not the very best rice land,
but ordinary No. 1, at 25:16s. per acre, capital value.

A son has the right to inherit his father's land on the father's
assessment, so long as its term runs, or, when the term has expired, has
a prior claim as against any one else. Part of the taxes, it is said,
lies by in the local prefecture's office as a reserve fund against
inundations. Yet, and this seems a little confusing, there are between
five and seven other local, provincial, and municipal taxes which can
reasonably be applied to the same ends. No one of these taxes exceeds a
half of the land-tax, unless it be the local prefecture tax of 2-1/2 per
cent.

In the old days the people were taxed, or perhaps squeezed would be the
better word, to about one-half of the produce of the land. There are
those who may say that the present system is not so advantageous as it
looks. Beforetime, the farmers, it is true, paid heavily, but only, on
their nominal holdings. They could, and often did, hold more land than
they were assessed on. Today a rigid bureaucracy surveys every foot of
their farms, and upon every foot they have to pay. Somewhat similar
complaints are made still by the simple peasantry of India, for if there
is one thing that the Oriental detests more than another, it is the
damnable Western vice of accuracy. That leads to doing things by rule.
Still, by the look of those terraced fields, where the water is led so
cunningly from level to level, the Japanese cultivator must enjoy at
least one excitement. If the villages up the valley tamper with the
water supply, there must surely be excitement down the valley--argument,
protest, and the breaking of heads.

The days of romance, therefore, are not all dead.

* * * * *

This that follows happened on the coast twenty miles through the fields
from Yokohama, at Kamakura, that is to say, where the great bronze
Buddha sits facing the sea to hear the centuries go by. He has been
described again and again--his majesty, his aloofness, and every one of
his dimensions, the smoky little shrine within him, and the plumed hill
that makes the background to his throne. For that reason he remains, as
he remained from the beginning, beyond all hope of description--as it
might be, a visible god sitting in the garden of a world made new. They
sell photographs of him with tourists standing on his thumb nail, and,
apparently, any brute of any gender can scrawl his or its ignoble name
over the inside of the massive bronze plates that build him up. Think
for a moment of the indignity and the insult! Imagine the ancient,
orderly gardens with their clipped trees, shorn turf, and silent ponds
smoking in the mist that the hot sun soaks up after rain, and the
green-bronze image of the Teacher of the Law wavering there as it half
seems through incense clouds. The earth is all one censer, and myriads
of frogs are making the haze ring. It is too warm to do more than to sit
on a stone and watch the eyes that, having seen all things, see no
more--the down-dropped eyes, the forward droop of the head, and the
colossal simplicity of the folds of the robe over arm and knee. Thus,
and in no other fashion, did Buddha sit in the-old days when Ananda
asked questions and the dreamer began to dream of the lives that lay
behind him ere the lips moved, and as the Chronicles say: 'He told a
tale.' This would be the way he began, for dreamers in the East tell
something the same sort of tales to-day: 'Long ago when Devadatta was
King of Benares, there lived a virtuous elephant, a reprobate ox, and a
King without understanding.' And the tale would end, after the moral had
been drawn for Ananda's benefit: 'Now, the reprobate ox was such an one,
and the King was such another, but the virtuous elephant was I, myself,
Ananda.' Thus, then, he told the tales in the bamboo grove, and the
bamboo grove is there to-day. Little blue and gray and slate robed
figures pass under its shadow, buy two or three joss-sticks, disappear
into the shrine, that is, the body of the god, come out smiling, and
drift away through the shrubberies. A fat carp in a pond sucks at a
fallen leaf with just the sound of a wicked little worldly kiss. Then
the earth steams, and steams in silence, and a gorgeous butterfly, full
six inches from wing to wing, cuts through the steam in a zigzag of
colour and flickers up to the forehead of the god. And Buddha said that
a man must look on everything as illusion--even light and colour--the
time-worn bronze of metal against blue-green of pine and pale emerald of
bamboo--the lemon sash of the girl in the cinnamon dress, with coral
pins in her hair, leaning against a block of weather-bleached
stone--and, last, the spray of blood-red azalea that stands on the pale
gold mats of the tea-house beneath the honey-coloured thatch. To overcome
desire and covetousness of mere gold, which is often very vilely designed,
that is conceivable; but why must a man give up the delight of the eye,
colour that rejoices, light that cheers, and line that satisfies the
innermost deeps of the heart? Ah, if the Bodhisat had only seen his own
image!

Rudyard Kipling

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