Kyoto to Osaka, 10 August 1893

Today’s program included an excursion first to Osaka and then to Nara. The train therefore took us towards that city on the same line that we had already used on our journey to Kyoto although at night. We rushed through a lovely green landscape where numerous sweep wells and treadwheels to irrigate the area rise as a strange accessories. Small bamboo forests interrupt in an agreeable way the monotony of the rice paddies extending very far. Repeatedly the train dashes over the nearly dry trickles of streams and small rivers an finally the bed of Kanzaki-gawa and also Jodo-gawa.

From the far distance Osaka, a city of more than 473.000 inhabitants, announces its character as an industry and trade center by the in no way picturesque view of numerous factories with smocking stacks. The first building that we passed was a brewery operated by steam that satisfied both the thirst and the industrial pride of the inhabitants of Osaka.

My strong request to keep my excursion Incognito as much as possible was granted but it only consisted that the police no longer saluted in front of me while everything else stayed the same. Thus we found here again a festive reception at the station, the presentation of high dignitaries, a triumphal entrance into the city through a cordon of curious spectators. I had declined with thanks to see the originally planned revue of the toal garrison troops of Osaka, quite to the disappointment of the commanding general, an old lieutenant general to whom I confirmed a visit to the castle and the arsenal instead.

Four court carriages brought us quickly first to the castle that is on the left bank of the Jodo-gawa in the East of the city that is not rarely called the Venice of Japan. This comparison is only valid in terms that in the Southern part of Osaka re numerous canals of filthy water that branch off from Jodo-gawa.

At the entrance to the fort the lieutenant general received me at the head of the officer corps and accompanied me into a service building where he presented me with photographs and sketches of the fortress after a long speech and offered refreshments. The castle resembles in its construction and fortification those of Kumamoto and represents a huge installation, although of smaller dimension, of an enclosing wall made out of colossal granite blocks that was 5 to 7 m wide and up to 12 m long and had a deep water-filled double moat. How they managed to move and pile up the giant granite blocks with the technical means available during the time of construction of the castle seems nearly unthinkable. It is remarkable that the walls of the escarpe and that of the contre-escarpe are not straight or at an angle but laid out in a curve. On top of the walls rise the peculiar towers of Japanese fortifications with their curved pagoda roofs. But their number is very small as most had in time become victim of the fires. Overall, the castle has turned into a ruin and also the palace within the second enclosed wall, apparently once the most splendid building of Japan, was consumed by flames in 1868. The ruins still look impressive today and tell the proud history of this fortress in a silent but haunting language. The castle was the key to the capital of Kyoto during those turbulent times and played an important role at decisive events in the history of Japan and is associated with the most illustrious names of the country.

Where today rise the debris of Osaka castle once there stood a very famous Buddhist monastery of the Shin sect that was destroyed in 1571 by the order of Nobunaga who had become one of the most powerful feudal lords thanks to the fortune of war and his bravery so that he was tasked by the Mikado to pacify the land and could dare to chase away shoguns or appoint them. Church history glorifies him as he protected Christians while he persecuted the depraved Buddhist priests who opposed his audacious plans. The order to destroy the monastery of Osaka is reinforced by Nobunaga’s words: „These bonzes never obeyed my orders but always supported the bad guys an resisted the Imperial army. If I do not remove it now, this misery will go on forever. Furthermore I have heard that these priests have ignored their own rules: They eat fish and bad herbs, have concubines and roll up the holy scripts instead of reading them and pray. How could they be the guardians against the bad and the keepers of justice?“ Then fire and sword performed their duties. A short time later the Taiko-sama had Osaka castle built in the spot of the destroyed monastery and had it reinforced a few years later. For that purpose apparently 17.000 houses were leveled.

In connection with the persecution of the Christians, Osaka became a place of refuge for Christianity and other malcontents and was besieged and conquered already in 1615 by Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokugawa shogunate, and his son Hidetada. During the downfall of the feudal system in Japan and the restitution of the rule of the Mikado it was left to Osaka to witness the decline of the Tokugawa shogunate as it had seen the foundation and rise of its reign. Here the last shogun from this family took up his position in 1868 but could not hold neither castle nor city and had to flee on an American ship. In the flames that consumed the castle the shogunate and with it the old feudal system perished too.

At the place of great historical memories there is now a peaceful work being built, a large reservoir that is to supply the city with fresh water. The view from the heights of the castle upon the city and its surrounding is gorgeous. In the far distance one could see the large steamers move across the inland sea.

Even though the visit to the arsenal was a bit arduous due to the oppressive heat, I still did not regret it as it offered me an opportunity to verify personally the high state of the Japanese arms industry. The short time during which Japan has managed to gain the knowledge about all the respective European installation is almost a miracle. In the arsenal they were just working on a number of guns, namely 7 cm mountain artillery to up to 40 cm fortress guns intended for newly constructed forts. As the government is diligently prepared to protect every suitable point at the coast, each passage, every ledge and every peninsula with forts and then arm them soundly. The arsenal is equipped with machines of the most modern construction so that gun barrels that arrive in a raw state from the foundry are within a short time completed and adjusted. In multiple extensive halls the gun production is active in a grand style. Naturally the associated secondary installations are not missing, thus a shop to repair rifles, a carpenter’s, a wainwright’s and a saddler’s shop for the production of carriages, ammunition wagons and the tacks for the artillery. In the saddler’s shop I examined all the types of leather used as well as the production of saddles as well as saddle blankets. Here too I found the latter to be much too thin and the saddles not built as robust as required for the permanent wear and tear they are exposed to at home. The arsenal currently already produces goods for export. Thus just a few mountain artillery pieces were produced for the Portuguese government.

After the visit to the arsenal followed an opulent breakfast in the officer’s club which was also attended by the generals and the governor. The building of the club is in its exterior of European but in the interior of  Japanese character which is enhanced by a small but interesting collection of art-industrial objects. Large ice blocks in bronze vases apparently from the heights of Fujiyama  provided agreeable coolness. At the breakfast the governor produced vivid hilarity. He assured me that his doctor had forbidden him to drink sake given his unsound state of health, but saw no objection to the consumption of cognac and consumed it with vehemence.

Finally it was time to go and take the railway from Minato-cho Station to Nara. The railway line crosses a plain cultivated everywhere with rice paddies and rich in streams, later hilly terrain. First in a South-eastern direction across the province of Kawachi, which like the province of Yamato whose capital Nara is are also part of the five core provinces. Then it continues in front of Uji Station over the mountain range which forms the border between the mentioned provinces and reaches in a North-eastern arc the city of Nara. Before we arrived there we made a stop at Horyuji to visit a temple at a distance of half an hour from there.

Moving in djinn rickshaws we soon saw the temple or more precisely the houses of a conglomerate of temple buildings that looked like a small city and were united in picturesque groups in a lovely grove and connected by paths and stairs that are decorated with small chapels and bronze vessels.

During our tour we walked past gates everywhere  that are protected by threatening grotesque guards in black and in red colors. The temple had been founded by Shotoku-daishi and completed in 607. It is thus the oldest surviving Buddhist temple whose rich art treasures are supported not only by the government but also a dedicated society to support the maintenance and conservation of the temple with notable contributions.

The hall of dreams, Yume-dono, an octogonal building, is dedicated to the goddess Kwan-on whose 600 year old image hangs beside an image of the 1100 year old face of Shotoku-daishi. In the right wing of a large building behind it that is ornamented by wall paintings that in part date from 1069 a reliquary is kept of the iris of the pupil od Buddha’s left eye whose view believers can look at always at noon. In the left wing there is an image of the goddess Kwan-on who is asked for assistance against evil dreams. The main temple, surrounded by a rectangular wall, contains a number of paintings, of Buddha and other gods of which three had been installed in 1231 as a replacement of three stolen statues.

A bronze statue of Yakushi Nyorai, that is the healing Buddha, and a wooden figure of Fugen, the especially divine patron of those who devote themselves to ecstatic views, are said to have been brought by a priest called Zemui from India. Two other images, among them one of the goddess Kwan-on is said to be of Indian origin. As treasures of the highest value appear the wall paintings that show all kinds of Buddhist reproaches and are assigned to the artist Tori Busshi as well as a Korean priest and have a great importance in Japanese art history. The old age of these works is beyond doubt and the style as well as the perfect execution that was not matched by any known Japanese artist point to a Korean origin.

In the temple building dedicated to Yakushi Njorai, a view of the strangest and surprising kind is presented as the walls are covered by thousands and thousands of swords, knives, arrows, bows, in one word with weapons of all kind that men have offered while mirrors and hair has been sacrificed by women as devotionals. But also other objects of all kinds have been given to the god out of gratitude for the mercy shown. Not missing are drills as a symbol for a restored sense of hearing. What would our ear specialists think about these instruments and the unmade deafness?

Colossal god statues distinguish the temple of Kami-no-do; in this temple we view the images of Shakyamuni (Buddha), of Monchu, a personification of supernatural knowledge, of Fugen and Shi-Tenno, one of the four kings in heaven who defend the world against demons. Furthermore a group is displayed that symbolises the death of Buddha and images of the eight scenes from Buddha’s life, beginning with his birth in heaven and ending with his entrance into nirvana. One of the colossal statues shows a notable close similarity to our common representation of the Archangel Michael who defends himself with a lance against the evil enemy.

A dark long winded hall that at first gave the impression of a prop storage room of a theater contains the temple treasure that is said, in my opinion justly, to be of exceptionally high value. Here there are splendid truly invaluable tapestry-like embroideries, figures and all kinds of other objects made out of wood and bronze, masks, swords, giant drums, gongs etc. In a row of closets that are locked off there must be further valuables that are kept out of sight from  profane viewers. At the end of the tour the bonzes offered us refreshments that we gladly accepted and then drove quickly to the station where the train took us to Nara.

This city built at the foot of a well wooded mountain range can claim the glory of being one of the oldest settlements in the country but is but a shadow of its former self. Once Nara had even been the center of the empire until the Emperor Kwammu moved his residence to Kyoto. After a half hour drive in rickshaws through the main avenue of Nara and a long avenue bordered by hundred year old Japanese cedars and cypresses we arrived at a club house in the middle of a temple grove called Kosugano-yashiroe which would serve as our residence.

The loveliness of the view of the scenery is enlivened in a graceful way by the numerous holy deer that are tamely mingling between the rickshaws and pedestrians and graze without fear. These deer (Cervus schika), that are said to be cared for a thousand years, are stronger and stockier than the spotted deer but otherwise quite similar. It seems to me that the number of deer with antlers but not more than eight points were outnumbering the other animals. The big game is under special protection so that earlier the death penalty was enforced for killing a piece. Feeding always takes place close to the temple with the consequence that the game is so tame that it accepts to be fed out of the hands of everybody.

Our quarter was a very charming residence. From my room on the first floor I had a view on the dark temple grove out of whose sea of leaves now here and then one could see the top of a pagoda or the roof of a temple and in the background the green hill slopes so that one imagines to be far from a urban community. The magic of the landscape and the absolute quietness of this piece on Earth is said to have pleased the Empress of Japan who enjoyed her visits to Nara and also stayed and held court in the comfortable club house in the same rooms that I was occupying as Nara lacks an Imperial palace.

As the advanced hour prevented a visit of Nara’s sights I wandered around in the temple grove to feed the deer so that I was soon surrounded by about 60 pieces. The tame animals pestered me formally, sniffed my pockets and would not relent until I had handed out some treats whereas one especially brash stag tried to advance his demands by the use of its antlers.

After the dinner in the club house there was arranged an original production of dancers, mimes and actors in a meadow in front of the veranda illuminated by mighty flickering  pinewood flames. The spectacle was opened by a warrior in a rich costume who performed an ancient Chinese dance, Gwan-so-raku, that means Joy of the Ancestors where the artists with a horrible face mask turned around a coiled snake in front of him, threatening it with weapons and finally strangling it. While it is already difficult in our ballets at home to add a choreographic plot that made some sort of sense, this was completely impossible here until it was explained that in the far West there lived barbarians who ate snakes and that the dance under the image of the dead snake was a symbolic illustration of the victory of the Emperor over his enemies and the joy about the victorious return of their master. More interest than the performance attracted the old brocade cloths in which the warrior was clad.

The first performed dance called Kaden was more like a clown art number than a choreographic work as two artists wearing hideous lion masks imitated the movements of two lions in which, by the way, they were quite skilled. This dance is said to have been composed more than 1000 years ago upon the order of the 54th Mikado, Ninmyo Tenno, by Fujiwara Sadotoshi.

The now following presentation accompanied by singing was based on a legend that was similar to the temptation of St. Anthony. The goddess Miwa transformed herself into a woman to seduce a god-fearing Buddhist priest called Gwanpin who is said to have lived 1100 years ago. Miwa creates delicate and difficult situations for him but after a long struggle the priest emerges victorious. At first the performance starts out very funny due to the strange plot and the art of presentation but then it becomes quite monotonous as the spurned pseudo goddess cries and wails without end and the steadfast servant of Buddha keeps swearing while squatting in one corner of the improvised stage.

At the end the actors played a farce with the idea that a magic cap that turned its wearer invisible. A boy who was beaten too much by his boss flees into a Buddhist temple in Kyoto and asks for help which is given in a very practical manner in regard to the circumstances by handing him the magic cap. The boss is now no longer able to find the boy and asks a bonze to track him down which naturally does not happen. To the joy of the boy, the farce ends with the boss and the bonze hitting each other.

Noh dances are the name of productions where monotonous music that is not conforming to our ours made by a harmonica, Sho, a mortar-like instrument beat with a hammer, Kokin, that replaces the bass and a bamboo clarinet, Fudsche, as well as a zither played laying down, Koto.

Links

  • Location: Nara, Japan
  • ANNO – on 10.08.1893 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 „Ein Tanzmärchen“.

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