Kyoto, 12 August 1893

Through the still empty streets the path went in a Western direction out of the city to reach the Katsura falls or, more precisely, the rapids of the Katsura river which we intended to tackle with boats.

Some minutes outside the city we made a stop at Ginkakuji, a country house built by Ashikaga Yoshimasa in 1479, after he had stepped down from the office of shogun. There is now a garden in which the Mikado also tends to walk when he is visiting Kyoto. This garden is strictly following the rules of Japanese gardening so that one meets here too dwarfish trees, cut bushes, grotesque rock groups, winding paths, small ponds and streams criss-crossing the garden.

Whereas elsewhere everything is done to support the free natural development and large trees with wide-ranging branches are desired, Japanese gardening seeks quality in smallness and is intent to contain nature in the smallest space possible, to restrict growth and force it into strange forms. Thus I have seen spruces and pines that were, though I was assured that the trees were fifty and even eighty years old, only half a meter high. It can not be denied that Japanese gardening expresses their great love for nature but it seems to me as if this love fails to understand the size of nature and that the son of Japan would not want to rise up to it but only wants to reduce it to his own size. In order to bring nature closer to the humans, they aim to create everything in a cute, small, dwarfish way and impose the mark of the garden artist’s mood. Everything we see in Japanese gardens is „cute“ — hardly another word fits to well to its qualities. A strangely formed heap of white sand in the garden of the country house, once the location for the aesthetic swoons and feasts of Yoshimasa, is called „silver sand platform“; the turning small water wheel in the site is called „source in which the moon takes a bath“, a stone in a small pond is the „rock of observation“ etc.

In fifty djinn rickshaws each drawn by three runners we drove across a plain covered at first by villages where the just harvested tea leaves had been laid out to dry on cloths. Numerous transport vehicles drawn by beautiful black bulls or with stallion ponies advanced towards us, whirling up dust which inconvenienced us not to a small degree. Alongside the road there are plenty of small tea houses that offer food to the tired wanderer and also now and then a refreshing drink of water to the runners whose endurance in this heat and dust is doubly astonishing. Our path, a very well maintained mountain road, led us to the heights in the Northwest of Kyoto through a gorge-like valley and up in serpentine roads. Here we enjoyed the charms of splendid vegetation as on both sides of the romantic path rose Japanese cedars, thujas, pines, bamboo  and all kinds of trees covering the steep ledges. Finally after having passed through a very long tunnel  we reached the peak and then descended into the valley of Hiroma-ji in which the Katsura-gawa, that is here called Hosu-gawa, and arrived an hour later on a bumpy road Yumamoto and thus the rapids of the Katsura river.

Three boats awaited us there, really strange vehicles, 6 m long and 2 m wide made out of thin boards only held together by wooden studs. It did not give an appearance of being very resistant and already while boarding the boards were buckling at each step at an alarming level. The crew consisted of four strong guys, one of which sat at the rudder while two rowed and the fourth with a long bamboo pole was tasked to keep the vehicle away from rocks at the shore and in the river bed.

As soon as we were assigned to the boats, the awesome journey started and after just a few moments we had already reached the first rapid which we crossed swift as an arrow. Depending on the slop, the boats glide calmly or rushed swiftly down the valley through the spray of the turbulent water at a dizzying speed. The course could not be in a straight direction as suddenly when the boats are at high speed running straight, a granite block stands in their way and one already thinks that the slim vehicle would crash but one wiggle of the rudder, a slight touch with the bamboo pole and the vehicle shoots past the dangerous spot a hand’s width away. Often the vehicle enters into thunderous waves and whirls and pitches mightily, the bottom boards move up and down as if under the influence of an earthquake. At times one feels how the vehicle glides over stones and rocks — but the elastic material of the boat resists in the same manner both the water and the rocks.

The trip which in a few places makes one think of being in one of our wild streams at home is exciting to the highest degree but undeniably also dangerous so that it is only due to the skill and the force of the boatmen that accidents rarely happen.

To increase the charms that we could admire at higher or lower speed or just get a glimpse of it when the boat flies past. Here the green waves of the river sparkle calmly downstream, there they rush whooshing, roaring, whizzing and thundering above and against the high rising blocking rocks, Now the valley gets wider, lovelier, then it closes again and we fly through the romantic narrow passages. At each turn of the river, a new image develops in our sights, soon a steep green ledge, soon woods covering the slopes, soon ragged rocks. Now and then a side valley opens in which a hidden mill peeks out. Now and then a curious tea house looks at us out of the light green space.

One and a half hours whiled away in a most agreeable manner until the valley widened and the Katsura river that is called Oi-gawa there runs in a very calm current and soon our fleet landed at Arashiyama. Here the inhabitants of Kyoto flock to preferentially in the spring when the cherry trees are in full bloom and enjoy the charms of the scenery of this lovely place on Earth surrounded by green hills and served by a couple of tea houses. Utile cum dulci! We too went there and did the same as the brave court cooks had produced a tasteful meal in one of these tea houses.

In a court carriage that followed the djinn rickshaws at their speed, I returned from the successful excursion to Kyoto and used the afternoon to go shopping and plunder the stores.

In the evening artists put on a show in the palace by performing a wild daring dance with fantastic masks and strange costumes as if they had been stung by a tarantula until they were out of breath and took their leave. I too quickly retired then and went to my quarter.

Links

  • Location: Kyoto, Japan
  • ANNO – on 12.08.1893 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 opera „Freund Fritz“.

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