Kumamoto, 5 August 1893

Soon after the break of dawn I fell into the hands of a barber who did complete his task in a very delicate manner with a great number of tiny knives but who put my patience to a hard test.

In the phaeton guided by Sannomiya we drove, in suffocating heat despite the early morning hour, to Kumamoto castle where I was received by prince Yoshihisa.

The city of Kumamoto, capital of the department of the same name comprising the provinces of Higo and Chikugo and after the census of 1891 counting more than 54.000 inhabitants, is situated at the river Shiragawa, about 6 km upstream from the mouth of that river, and was destroyed by a fire in the year 1877 as well as severely damaged by a later earthquake. Newly rebuilt in part, the city’s structures offer a very regulated impression and are characterised by wide clean roads with planted trees. The houses are very small and equipped with characteristic roofs. They allow everybody an unrestricted view into the interior of the house as well as the family life. Apart from the tea houses and palaces of rich owners, The shops lining the streets are filled with vast quantities of original objects.

The castle was built by Kato Kiyomasa, one of the senior general of Japan’s war against Korea (1592) but was like the park destroyed so that today the wide area is occupied by a large number of military buildings, barracks, stables, magazines, ammunition depots etc. The extremely high walls formed out of huge rocks and the deep moats that can be detected despite their having been filled-in are remarkable. Even in the interior the fortress is criss-crossed by walls that are punctuated by gates. Today the walls are not in a condition to act as a defense. The former stronghold could not withstand a siege supported by modern guns all the more so as the higher surrounding hills are not protected by forts or batteries. Currently therefore the castle has no role as a fortress even though it still fulfilled its purpose in the year 1877.

During the Satsuma uprising a garrison commanded by General Tani, and reinforced by part of the garrison of Kokura,  that consisted of an infantry regiment, four batteries of field artillery, one company of engineers and two companies from Fukuoka, in total about 3000 men,  resisted for 52 days against the rebels who besieged the castle with about 16.000 men. At that time the city quarter close to the fortress was fully burned down by the garrison in order to have a sufficiently open field of fire.

The path that leads up to the command post at the highest point on the hill passes through all the former defensive works and is notable by its steepness so that finally the horses pulling the phaeton completely refused to go on. They did no longer pull which caused the wagon to fall back and caused Sannomiya much embarrassment. He beat the horses, tore forcefully at the sharp poles and expressed his displeasure with swearwords that he took alternating from German and Japanese. This did however not improve the matter and the journey could only be continued after some runners rushed in and rescued us by pushing the wagon by its wheels upward.

Prince Yoshihisa received us most obligingly in the not really large but comfortable apartments and showed me a picture of the former fortress which he presented to me as well as three charming porcelain figures of high artistic value. From a bastion in front of the house where some old guns were waiting to be decommissioned, we enjoyed a panoramic view open to all  sides on the castle, the long-winded city at its foot and its surrounding area.

Using maps and lists of dates the prince gave me a very interesting account of the rebellion of 1877, in which, as stated, Kumamoto had played an important role. This Satsuma rebellion that was only put down after seven months proved to be a severe test which the modernised Japan had to pass. The soul behind the dangerous movement  was General Saigo Kichinosuke who deserved much credit for the restoration of power of the mikado  but had retired to his home since 1873. Sulking and unhappy, Saigo founded private schools for samurai with like-minded friends in Satsuma. They were educated in Chinese literature and instructed in military exercises. In time the number of these samurai grew to 30.000, who formed an army blindly devoted to Saigo.

In January 1877 the long prepared movement broke out and Saigo marched at the head of 14.000 rebels whose numbers considerably increased by new arrivals on Kumamoto. It was besieged by a part of the rebels while about 9000 men went Northwards towards the Imperial troops approaching from Kokura led by Arisugawa-no-miya. The rebels were soon beaten at Tawarasaka and the siege of Kumamoto had to be lifted. After a number of smaller battles the strongholds of the rebels, the cities of Miyakonocho and Nobeoka, fell into the hands of the Imperial troops which however did not prevent Saigo to capture Kagoshima at the head of 500 faithful and take the ample stocks assembled there. Already on 24 September Saigo and his small band were surrounded on Shira mountain near Kagoshima by 15.000 men of Imperial troops. The brave rebels soon were killed or captured. Saigo died by the hand of one of his companions named Beppu who cut off his head and so provided his leader with a last friendly deed. Himself he killed by committing Harakiri, that is the ritual slitting open of the belly.

On the bastion tents had been set up in which cooling drinks and frozen treats were served and the native adjutants fanned cool air towards us — a common local and very welcome use of these officials given the tropical heat. The view of the city that presented itself, the smiling landscape, the surrounding mountain ranges as well as the fortress were incredibly picturesque and all the more attractive the longer the viewer absorbs the impression of the scenic image. About 100 m distant from the bastion rise the last remains of the earlier art of fortification, a tall pagoda-like tower made out of wood that has probably been left standing as a historic landmark and now is used as an observation platform. Climbing the three floors on the steep wooden staircase of the tower we looked down from its vertiginous height. As images show, all walls and protruding edges carried such towers in the good old times when powder was unknown and shooting weapons were restricted to bow and arrow. The important number of such towers must have given a very strange appearance to a fortress.

From a lofty height we could survey the imposing extent of the castle and the number of buildings that had been constructed. Apart from the remains of the former fortifications, there lay the barracks of the 13th and 23rd infantry regiments built in the modern pattern, that is according to the pavilion system and equipped with spacious courtyards where troop formations performed platoon and company exercises in their summer uniforms. At some distance are the cavalry and artillery barracks whereas especially the former one with its trooper pavilion, the long troop stables, the smithies and the quarantine stations resembled a home cavalry barrack and really looked almost nostalgic to a former commander of a cavalry regiment.

Even though a visit of the cavalry barracks was not on the program, I asked the prince to visit this military institution given my understandable interest for my own branch of service. I also asked to see a mounted formation perform exercises. I had no reason to regret the fulfilment of these wishes. What I was presented astonished me in fact justly.

As the formation of cavalry in the European manner has only happened recently, the achieved results must be called rather excellent. Even though there are still some defects that can not be denied, still my expectations were surpassed by far. According to the organization of the Japanese cavalry it was set to consist of 6 battalions of the line at 3 squadrons each and 1 guard battalion of 2 squadrons. Each battalion of the line had a total strength of 497 men and 459 horses.

The stables that offered space for two troops each are built out of wood and very airy. In the stall there is no permanent straw. The appearance of the horses, even though some are well nourished and have glossy hair, in general leaves much to be desired. Some of the animals are much too meager and a great number had saddle sores. Remarkably many were stallions. The feed provided three times per day consists of barley and rather bad reedy hay. The army command has replaced the saddle in use with a new one built according to a German model but it did not look practical to me which also applied to the newly introduced string belts. The storage packs are at the rear, the coat and two small bags that contain each two magazines with three bullets each. are carried in front tied to the horn. Earlier the bit was very similar to ours, which was true for all horse gear, but was replaced recently by an English bit with very long lower parts which in my opinion offers no advantage. Completely unusable are the much too thin grass green saddle blankets, folded eight times, that are probably the reason of the numerous and often quite considerable saddle sores.

The troop rooms are covered with wood and are airy and cleanly kept. I noticed the large number of uniforms and shoes with which the soldiers are equipped. Each man has besides the parade and exercise uniform, a summer uniform and three to four striped jackets, a very comfortable piece of clothing. On boards that are fixed above the sleeping places there are everywhere nice tea bowls. The troopers who look well and strong are fed three meals per day which consists mostly out of rice, the national dish, and sufficient complements of fish or meat.

As far as the arms of the cavalryman are concerned I noticed that the saber’s blade was slim and thin while the hilt offered little flexibility so that the weapon nearly gave the impression of being made for children. The carbine is not held by belt as it our practice and bounces around on the back of the trooper at any movement. The revolver of the NCOs are easy to handle and much more practical weapons than those we use.

While we were inspecting the rooms of the barracks, a mounted troop of 14 pairs had assembled in the large courtyard upon the order of the commander who made a fine military impression. This troop performed all evolutions of troop exercises in every gait. It completely resembled the movements of the cavalry troops of our army because the German had taken the German regulations as their prototype which in turn was formed after our own regulations, with the exception that at the reception the troops salute too with the saber held high holding the hilt in front of the face.

All movements, turns, pulls, deployments and departures in pairs or fours were performed quietly. At the end of the exercise the troopers rode individually in circles which allowed us to precisely judge the quality of each horse and rider. The Japanese government had bought a couple of years ago some Hungarian studs and sent them to different areas of the country. The products of these ancestors form the cavalry horse of the Japanese army today which at the first glance reveals its Hungarian blood. The choice of the studs, however, does not have been a happy one as the descendants had a faulty, too short neck with a very pronounced lower jaw and sometimes bad backs while the legs mostly looked very good.  I would classify the presented animals as equal to our transportation horses of a minor quality. The horses of the Japanese cavalry are bought at the surprisingly low price of just below 200 fl. in our currency per piece and directly trained by the troop if they are not supplied by remounts from the government foal breeding farms.

The riding of the troopers still left much to be desired according to our standards. Not the leas due to the requirement for the rider to hold his fist very high because the coat and the bags with the ammunition had been packed in front of him. This causes a rather uneasy lead. The people in general treated their rarely ridden horses harshly despite the very sharp horse gear with a stiff lower jaw. In contrast, the troopers have a smooth good seat and I believe that a troop such as the one we inspected with its natural ability and the good will of the people could be taught in a short time by an instructor educated in European methods to achieve full parity with a good European cavalry regiment.

In any case I have experienced continental cavalry formations exercise that performed far worse than the presented Japanese troop to whose honor I have to insist that the inspection was in no way planned but improvised so that they could not train the exercises beforehand as this is said to be the case elsewhere. With words of true praise and heartfelt thanks I left the barracks, congratulating the brave colonel about the performance of his troop, not without regretting that the short time frame did not permit to inspect the infantry and artillery.

Prince Yoshihisa led us to a park not fully 2 km distant from the city called Suisenji which was once the garden of the country retreat of the Hosokawa family. The Japanese are justly quite proud about this park that serves as a place for excursions. It is really a sightseeing spot of a very strange kind as it is typical for the Japanese art of gardening. It gives the impression as if one had taken small trees, bushes, flowers, hills, rocks, ponds and pools out of a toy box and tastefully arranged them in groups and colorful stops in order to create a garden installation in the most delicate dimension.

While there had been large crowds on both sides of the road, there was an army of dignitaries at the entrance of the park. The most prominent were introduced to me while the rest formed a well organized cordon through which we walked to arrive at a hut decorated with flags and flowers where refreshments and tea was served. The latter was offered in the manner the Japanese like to drink it that is as a bitter tasting green broth that resembled a garden sorrel sauce which I did not like at all.

Japan almost only produces green tea and for the cultivation of the tea bush are allocated only areas in the plains or on gently sloping grounds. The best qualities of the Japanese tea, powder or pearl tea is almost completely consumed by the country itself while in general only tea from leaves of minor quality are exported. While we were trying to paralyze the oppressive heat by the consummation of refreshing drinks, a brilliant daylight firework was ignited.

The smartly profit-oriented merchants of Kumamoto had set up an exhibition of all kinds of Japanese artistic and industrial products not far from the park in an open theater in order to tempt us. As there were splendid things, exquisite objects made out of bronze, lacquer paintings, artistically formed and worked objects made out of bamboo, porcelain, silk and namely armor as well as weapons, among them especially artistically decorated swords are worth a mention.  The prices demanded were enormous. Still out of honor I had to make some acquisitions which seemed to cause quite some entertainment for my princely cousin.

A breakfast served in our small house attended by some higher officers of the garrison completed our stay in Kumamoto. The friendly prince Yoshihisa accompanied us to the station through a cordon of troops where we left under the thunder of the gun in a special court train on the line of the Kyushu railway that connects the island of Kyushu from Kumamoto in a Northern direction to the terminal station of Moji.

This railway line stops at some larger places such as Kurume, earlier the residence of the daimyo of Arima and now the capital of the province of Chikugo. Then the win city of Hakata-Fukuoka divided by the river Naka. The former is the harbor of the latter and formerly contained the business quarter while Fukuoka served as a garrison quarter with houses for the many thousands of samurai and now is the capital of the province of Chikusen. Finally just shortly before the terminal stop is Kokura, the capital of the province Busen. The railway soon turns to the West and then continues for some time alongside the coast and then to the North only to turn from Hakata in a large curve to the East and North-east to Moji.

Not only in the stations of the larger villages but also on all the smaller stations and even where the train did not stop great crowds had turned out led by governors, commanders and other dignitaries of all categories to greet me. I did not attend, however, the planned receptions and speeches of the stops in order to enjoy the peace by pretending to sleep so that the visiting dignitaries were reduced to only drop of their cartes de visite in the wagon.

Alongside all the tracks there were measures taken by the police to guarantee our protection. Even in places where the track passed a road stood a saluting guard fully aware about his dignity and importance. I may, I believe, say with justice that Japan has never before seen such a police deployment in such a limited space and I have never in my life felt to be under so much supervision as here.

The special train was not exactly flying by on the narrow gauge track so that it was a real pleasure to stand on the platform of the wagon and observe the cheerful scenery. The character of the country is harmonically suited to their happy polite inhabitants even though it could also be said that the inhabitants had conformed themselves to the character of the landscape. Everywhere there were friendly valleys opening up and numerous small villages peeped out of the lush green. Mountains and hills are in many places heavily stocked with coniferes below which dense bamboo bushes are growing. Unfortunately there are also important areas which had been completely deforested which is no wonder given the intense demand for wood in this country. In these places grows a  weed-like bamboo. Now and then one could see quite suddenly rising hills of a semI-spherical shape emerge out of the plains on which grew rich vegetation among which aventurously twisted pines were common that we had already seen in many Japanese gardens in natura and on lacquered boxes, vases etc. in more or less successful reproductions.

At Kokura where the railway comes very close to the sea, we greeted the sea colorfully illuminated by the setting sun. Out of its depths the mirror images of the golden mountain tops were gleaming. Hundreds of snow-white egrets were escorting us in a long line.

At the terminal stop of Moji a festive reception was awaiting me. Three Japanese warships were moored there: „Yaeyama“, „Takao“ and „Manchu“ fired the gun and board salute despite the fact that the sun had already set. Moji, which actually forms a single harbor with Shimonoseki on the opposite shore, is a newer urban settlement whose growth dates only back to 1891, as since that year the Kyushu railway ended there. In a barge we crossed the one mile wide strait of Van der Capellen or Shimonoseki. After a short journey we landed in Shimonoseki and thus at the South-western-most point of the large island of Hondo. As much as I could distinguish during the dusk, we had set foot in a very charming spot on earth. In the North of the harbor city rise steep but not high wooden hill ranges that provide cover against the raw Northern winds and thus in combination with the Southern orientation of Shimonoseki ensure a very favorable local climate.

Sanyodo — that is the area on the sunny side of the mountain — is the name of the landscape in whose province Choshiu the city of Shimonoseki is located which actually only consists of an about 3 km long road. We walked through a cordon constituted out of a battalion of fortress artillery to the house assigned to us that was dominating the harbor in which the same niceties, the same local comforts were offered as in the other Japanese houses that we had seen earlier.

The entrance to the strait is strongly fortified. Already above Kokura begin the fortifications consisting of seven forts equipped with modern batteries which continue by the island of Hiki to Shimonoseki. These fortifications are the fruits of the experiences the Japanese made in 1864. In that year Shimonoseki was, despite the brave Japanese resistance, completely shot up by a fleet composed of English, French, Dutch ships and a single warship of the United States of America, so that the daimyo of Choshiu had to ask for peace and pay an indemnity of nearly 7,500.000 fl. in Austrian currency. This act of violence had been caused by the said daimyo who had started to fire on all foreign ships that tried to pass through the strait of Shimonoseki.

After the dinner at which I sat between two mute government officials as they only were able to speak Japanese an illuminated fishing trip in the sea was set to happen. In a large transport boat we drove alongside the festively illuminated city close to the shore until we reached a spot where about 50 fishing boats had assembled. Each of it carried at the fore a flash-light of lighter wood. The principle of catching fish here as apparently of the same kind as our brave boatswain Zamberlin used at Owa raha with the difference that the fish here were not staked by Zamberlin but instead caught in small scooping nets or more correctly intended to be caught. A large number of dignitaries had escorted us whose puffing barges driving up and down may have enlivening the image but disturbed the water very strongly and thus made all sea animals flee out of the surrounding area. An eel-like fish as well as a clueless squid formed our only catch. This, however, proved sufficient to witness the skill of the fishermen. They discovered their catch already at great depth an caught it fast as lightning in their net.

Links

  • Location: Shimonoseki, Japan
  • ANNO – on 05.08.1893 in Austria’s newspapers.
  • The k.u.k. Hof-Burgtheater is closed for summer until 15 September. The k.u.k. Hof-Operntheater is performing the ballet „Die goldene Märchenwelt“.

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