Tokyo — Nikko, 20 August 1893

In front of the small Catholic mission church where I attended mass the pupils of its nuns assembled for me. The nuns provide excellent service for the education of the children but reasonably keep the Japanese costumes, the usual Japanese greetings and other external traditions. The small musumes are all dressed alike and look very cute. The mother superior, Mater Domitilla, a dignified old lady has been staying for a long time in Japan doing her pious and useful job.

At the visit I paid to the archbishop of Tokyo, a kind Frenchman, I learned from him and a missionary also present many interesting details about the country and its people, but unfortunately also that the propagation of the Christian religion was not showing the desired progress in Japan as the Japanese did not possess much religious sense and are mostly very apathetic in terms of matters of believing.

Until now the number of festivities was so compact that I had not yet found the opportunity to visit the shops of Tokyo. This was to be made up today, the first free day. During my stroll I saw a good part of the city whose enormous extent only now became clear to me but the first impression did not change that the city is behind the other visited Japanese cities as far as originality is concerned. Everywhere pieces of Europe pushed out in a not very stylistic and inharmonious way. The streets one of which measures more than 7 km are too long and have a tiring effect.

Tokyo`s shops, namely the Curio Shops, offer a great variety of objects and thus a rich selection. One believes that all original treasures have already been discovered and bought and still finds new forms and totally unknown objects once more.

In bronze, lacquer, porcelain, wood and paper all the holy animals appeared and especially frequently the dragon that is predominant in Japanese myth, symbolism and art. We also frequently encountered the country`s coat of arms too, namely the schematic flower of the Chrysanthemum, Kiku, and the coast of arms of the house of the Mikado that is formed by the leaves and flowers of Paulownia imperialis, Kiri.

In one of the shops I noticed a wavelike moment of the floor, the walls trembled and the water in the aquariums splashed upwards high into the sky — apparently I lived through one of those earthquakes that strike Tokyo so often and I thought that the underground forces did not want me to leave before they had shown their terrible powers but only at a moderate level thus causing interest but not having a devastating effect. In a distant part of the city one of my gentlemen also noticed the movement of the earth.

Unfortunately I did not have time to buy silk of which it was said that Tokyo was especially rich, as I wanted to pay a visit to our ambassador Baron Biegeleben in the Tokyo Hotel before my departure. It is a first class hotel that is owned by a Japanese and managed by Japanese but still was worthy to be placed in a line with any hotel in England or Switzerland.

The short time that I still had left in Tokyo I used to visit a Japanese theater that is laid out somewhat like our great singing halls. Opposite the entrance is the great stage. The space for the audience is divided into boxes, floor and galleries whereas the first two are divided by half-a-meter high boards in square fields each of which offers space for four to six persons. Banks and chairs don`t exist, everyone is sitting on the floor. The occupants of the boxes, whole families or groups install themselves comfortably in view of the length of the performances —  they last from noon to 10 o’clock in the evening — and bring food and drink.

The theater offers room for ca. 3000 people, and all of them smoke, without any distinction among the sexes. Everywhere there are fireboxes with glowing coals and the matches are only thrown on the ground. The orders of the fire police did not seem to be very demanding which should be the case given that the buildings are made only out of wood, straw and paper. Instead of almond milk, lemonade or similar refreshments that are common at home, here they sell rice, fruit and sake. The continuous rustle of the fans, crying children and the beating of the pipes creates ongoing and varied noise that has quite a negative impact on the art enjoyment.

The quite spacious state is very primitive in matters of changing the scene as it only involves the turning of a disc that has various decorations. The orchestra consisting of only a few musicians sits at the height of the first floor next to the stage in a cage-like space out of which now and then unmelodious sounds reach our ears. To the right and left of the floor and along the full length of it are two board runways called flower paths that lead to the stage. These are used for the entrance and exit of armed groups but also serve for the movements of the actors who act and speak from these runways. During the long breaks, the elegant part of the audience moves to the surrounding tea houses and only return when the play continues to the theater.

The themes of the pieces played in the Japanese theater are mostly taken from the national history which offers inexhaustible themes in the continuous wars among the daimyos. Heated fights, murder, killings and harakiri, that has now gone out of practice, are the climax of most dramatic development. But the presentation of popular life and moral plays are not missing if one may call them thus. Is a piece too long or too tragic in its conclusion, then arbitrary cuts are made and individual acts from other plays inserted. Only men perform as actors but are very good at playing the female parts in voice, posture, gestures and dress. It is not necessary to highlight that we did not understand much about the plot of the piece that was played. It was a piece of the category of a jealousy drama and resulted in an intense fall-out of the lovers according to the gestures and the looks of the actors. Apparently the action was very sad as the audience was visibly moved. Namely the female part of the audience was drenched in tears and at times loud sobbing was heard. But soon we had to tear ourselves away from the play in order to drive to the distant station of Uyeno where the Imperial princes and the ministers had assembled to say good-bye to me.

The railway forms an arc in a Northern direction crossing well tended land until Utsunomiya, where it turns towards the Northwest to reach the for Japanese holy grounds of Nikko. From the shores of the Tone-gawa to just up to Nikko there was an alley of Japanese cedars that was in a class of its own and made a great impression in the darkness of the night, covered in shadows. A pious man who was to poor to pay for a bronze lantern at the sanctuaries of Nikko is said to have planted the alley. Where we today quickly rolled on railtracks, under the Tokugawa shoguns the Reiheishi moved on the road named after him, the envoy of the Mikado who had to present offerings in the mausoleum of Ieyasu at Nikko.

At 11 o’clock in the night we arrived in Nikko where despite the advanced hour there were curious people in great numbers who watched the nearly endless line of djinn rickshaws that winded liked a snake from the station to the Nikko hotel more than 2 km away which is situated in the gully outside of the temple city, close to a temple grove and provided a fitting place to rest for us.

Links

  • Location: Nikko, Japan
  • ANNO – on 20.08.1893 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 a ballet and Viennese waltzes.

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