Shimonoseki to Miyajima, 6 August 1893

Prior to embarking on „Yaeyama“ I had the opportunity to meet the Japanese prime minister, the often mentioned Count Ito Hirobumi, and express my most vivid sympathies as he had arrived during the night to visit his son who was ailing due to a heavy fall. The son of the count had also been assigned to my entourage but had had the misfortune during the trip to meet us to fall down from the gangway and sustain so heavy internal injuries that our doctor who had examined the patient declared that there was only a minor chance of recovery.

To the thundering salute of all warships we took leave from Shimonoseki, while our cruiser was slowly turning until it steered Eastwards into the much praised inland sea. The Japanese inland sea, Seto-no-uji-umi, that is the sea between the straits is enclosed in the South by the islands of Kyushu ans Shikoku, in the North by the main island of Hondo and is connected to the ocean by the strait of Van der Capellen, Bungo and Linschoten. High and low tide alternate in the inland sea just like in the ocean, but the depth of the inland sea is low and often barely 20 fathoms. Extending from Shimonoseki in the West to Osaka in the East, the inland sea is namely in the middle parts covered with volcanic islands whose number is given according to Japanese sources as being in the multiple thousands.

Just after we had exited through the narrow passage of Shimonoseki, the coasts of the islands of Kyushu and Hondo left us as they retreat here sharply an surround this part of the inland sea named after the province Suwo in a wide arc.

This day displayed an inclination to show everything in the best light. Without clouds the sky was smiling upon us in a friendly blue and a fresh wind brought agreeable cool air. The slightly moving sea was enlivened by countless vehicles built in the most adventurous forms and equipped with the strangest sails out to go fishing, as fish play an important role in the diet of the Japanese people as fish composes their main meat component. After the current regulations steamships do not have to evade the surrounding boats. It is upon the latter to make way for the steamships. But this is accorded with a certain carelessness, so that we had come all too close to some junks despite the frequent use of the steam whistle until we finally rammed one which however slid alongside our board wall with crunching sounds and survived with damages to its steering and masts — a collision that made no impression on our commander who continued his journey with a smile as if nothing had happened.

After about three hours we changed course and steered towards North-east to enter into a real labyrinth of islands on this course. Driving through this jumble of islands was truly enchanting and I can confirm with my own experience that the enthusiastic reports given in travel descriptions about the natural beauties of the island sea are not exaggerated.  The larger islands with their mighty mountains that are partly bereft of woods but still form a very effective background make a very imposing impression. Many of the smaller islands that are in very fantastic forms consist of only a single gigantic rock emerging out of the sea, others are covered with hills and pointy cones. Nearly all larger islands are inhabited. At the coasts village is followed by village, one fishing village after another. Everywhere it is apparent that the inhabitants rely either on agriculture or fishing for their living. On the slopes of the hills extend well cultivated fields and on the lightly curled surface of the sea danced complete fleets of boats. Even somebody with a very audacious imagination might have trouble inventing such a scenery that surpasses in diversity, movement and impressive greatness as well as charming intimacy  what is revealed in front of our eyes here.

Even though our full attention was already taken care of, the commander of „Yaeyama“ arranged exercises that happened quite precisely and quickly with the 12 cm Armstrong guns despite the long nearly endless Japanese orders. From time to time the ship band played some music pieces, among them the inescapable overture of „Tell„, a pot-pourri from „Mignon“ and various dances from home. For all the appreciation that I am read to accord the Japanese after all that I have heard and seen, I can not keep quiet about the fact that I have enjoyed much better performances than what was produced for our ears here. Some of the presented pieces could hardly be recognized in the manner played here and the programs too had no claim to reliability as they for instance declared the opera „Carmen“ to be a creation of our waltz king Strauß.

When we changed course again to steer northwards the mountainous coast of the province Suwo lay only a few miles away on port. Following this coast and later that of the province Aki we steamed until we came into sight of the island of Miya — our destination for today. After we still crossed a very narrow passage putting some fishing boats in danger but exited without accident, we entered into the bay of Miyajima where two warships, the cruiser „Chiyoda“ and the corvette „Tenriu“, greeted the arrival of „Yaeyama“ with thunder. To my not especially pleasing surprise we could already see from afar both on land and in boat the white uniforms of the overeager policemen.

The temple island Miyajima is remarkable in comparison to the other islands of this archipelago that its up to 457 m rising heights covered with splendid closed woods. The ground of the island is holy. That is why the humans are not allowed to lay hand on the trees and also the deer enjoy an undisturbed existence, so fully tame dear run around in the midst of pedestrians and eat out of the hands of a passer-by. Despite the religious dedication that distinguishes the island it is a much visited excursion place during the summer as the charming valleys that open up towards the sea are criss-crossed by numerous pleasant trails. A never too hot temperature as well as refreshing sea and freshwater baths are other attractive reasons for a visit. The island is inhabited by about 3003 people — priests, innkeepers, fishermen and wood cutters — whose houses are situated in charming seclusion along the bay at the foot of the green hills from which splendid conifers were greeting us. A very interesting contrast to this was formed by the province Aki on the opposite shore, as the sharply falling slopes of the mountains were bare and the light colored almost gleaming white stone and debris made it seem as if the mountains were covered by snow.

Also on Miyajima I had to undergo an entrée glorieuse, an introduction I would have gladly been spared but which was inescapable as the Japanese were very keen on creating the greatest ceremonies and the fullest pomp at any opportunity. At the landing bridge the high dignitaries and notables stood in great numbers. They were presented to me and bowed deeply when I passed them Then followed a cordon of the guardians of the law, behind them there was a crowd of the people curious to see the foreign prince who, followed by his own and the Japanese entourage, walked between the lifeguard in a green uniform and the doorman with the sword. I permitted myself a small deviation from the program.  When I noticed that the distance to our residence would be quite far away and covering it at the speed of a festive procession in the high temperature as well as the fact that the path was not covered with roses but a layer of fine sand not especially agreeable I started to walk at a double quick that soon brought me to my destination but the entourage was left breathless causing general hilarity.

While the residences on Japanese soil had already found our admiration, this was by far surpassed by the charming details of this residence prepared for us here as well as its scenic surrounding, the originality of the site. The path had led us through a narrow wooded gorge. Trees many hundred years old provided agreeable shade. In the base of the gorge a small crystal clear stream was flowing, enlivened by jolly goldfish and other species of fish swimming around.  Between the trees rose rocks on which there were very charming small houses distributed apparently randomly and only owe their existence to the fancy of good taste. Each of us was assigned to his own house.

At a few spots the ripply stream has been dammed to create a miniature pond in whose midst open kiosks with verandas stand on poles. In these mats as well as plushy pillows invite to rest and dream to the murmurs of the stream. All these enchanting buildings are connected with delicate paths, stairs, runways or bridges. Here and there a bubbling source splashes between the rocks, whizzes and sprays a water fountain whose jets fall back into the caves of the hollowed out stones that are surrounded by all kinds of water and climbing plants. Everywhere there are small stone temples covered in moss — similar to the chapels and votive pillars that stand on our country roads — that are intended to hold a light in the evening in order to provide illumination like niches cut into the rock. The wonders surrounding us here have been created by true artists whose brisk fantasies have been combined with a fine sensory for the beauty of nature and emotional poetry. Our astonishment about this idyllic retreat in the woods was loudly proclaimed and we rushed around everywhere closely discovering the magic place in all its details.

The individual houses were of a colorful diversity in their site and execution so that we could not cease to be amazed about the creativity of the Japanese builders. Still each of these small master works shared a common quality of cuteness. Here too the building material was only wood, namely bamboo, straw mats and paper but the artisans had shown their rare skills in such an excellent way that the most simple means created wholesome effects for the eye. Even the furniture of the living rooms was picturesque, consistent with the laws of beauty. While the decorative art of the related tribe of the Chinese is characterised by a preference for the colorful and flashy and sometimes even blatant, the Japanese, despite all variety of colors, are distinguished by their artistic moderation, the perfect harmony and the cosy intimacy as well as a tender understanding to create life as comfortable as possible. The principles of the Japanese character, the vivid hilarity, the attractive sensuality and notable sense for beauty are displayed in all areas of life of the people and make the people and the country equally sympathetic to any stranger who sets foot on Japanese soil.

After I had said good-bye to the dignitaries and notables who had escorted me and taken possession of our small house, I took a stroll in the neighborhood of my residence.

Miyajima is thanks to its famous temple a place of pilgrimage, a sort of Mariazell of Southern Japan; like in the proximity of our church of mercy there are in the area of the temple countless shops and stalls that sell souvenirs about the holy island to the pilgrims. These objects are mostly expert carvings or pictures of the settlement on the island, the temple, the deer etc. available for an almost ridiculous low price, a circumstance which might be explained that the island is still outside of the great tourist routes and the inhabitants are not yet spoiled by visiting Englishmen and Americans. In these shops I bought whole wagon loads of pretty objects especially small tables, vases and all kinds of copies of crippled wood, toys and hundreds of other things.

The government had also, by the way, made great efforts to make the enlargement of my collection as easy as possible. In one building whose rooms otherwise are used for pedagogical purposes they had arranged a formal display of the products of Japanese art industry which overall contained about the same objects sold in the shops but cost three times the price thanks to the official intervention. I limited my purchases there to an ancient Japanese suit of armor besides the matching grotesque mask with its martial moustache.

Climbing a steep stairs I arrived in a large temple-like hall built out of wood which is situated on a hill and had been constructed by Taiko-sama, the marshal and regent of the empire who had started out as a groom, in the spot where he had given orders in 1591 before the departure of the Japanese army under the generals Konishi Jukinaga and Kato Kiyomasa to the conquest of Korea. This hall in which the Taiko-sama is said to have held great festive banquets is decorated with large votive pictures hanging on the walls. The wood carvings on a pagoda constructed not far from the hall shows the honorable signs of old age.  A few steps above these buildings and near of a monument dedicated to a fallen soldier, on the dominant point of the island, I enjoyed the attractive panoramic view of the lovely Miyajima.

Dinner we ate to the sounds of two music bands in one of the pond kiosks. In that unusual dinning room there was very agreeable temperature so that it would be desirable that also in our country similarly built and situated rooms could be used for the same purpose during the summer months  if the mosquitoes permit this as they were noticeably disturbing the comfortable dinner at Miyajima. The dinner was attended, among other personalities, by the division commander of Hiroshima with a very vivid and jovial temperament as well as an admiral who had come from the port city of Kure — two gentlemen with whom I had a very inspiring conversation. The messages of the admiral strengthened my conclusion that the Japanese were carefully planning to expand their navy, a circumstance that not the least is shown by the excellent performance of the Imperial navy cadet school that had been set up on the island of Eta close to Kure.

The famous temple of the island, a Shinto shrine, we visited during the evening. Shintoism and Buddhism are both heathen religious systems practised by the Japanese population. Buddhism, currently split into seven main sects and devoted to the most crass idol veneration, is the actual religion of the people while the upper classes of society now are mostly religiously indifferent or lapsed into atheism. Beside the two religions noted the doctrine of Confucius has also taken hold. It has not penetrated very deeply but it has influenced many of the better educated classes and greatly namely the samurai of earlier times.

The Shintoism intends felicity during the mundane life and presumes that the spirits of the deceased assist in the achievement of this goal. That is way the believer clamp their hands and ring to call them. Characteristic for Shintoism or the Kami doctrine are the adoration of famous men as gods besides a multitude of gods apparently in the millions who are led by the sun queen Amaterasu. An apparent descendant of the latter, the Jimmu Tenno (660 to 585 BC), is the founder of the Japanese Empire and the ancestor of the Imperial House so that the respective Emperor of Japan is venerated as a son of heaven and thus as a god. To Shintoism actual dogmatic and ethical principles are alien but a well established ritual and a developed liturgy exist. Like Buddhism, Shintoism could not keep its original purity but has been influenced by the former in many ways.

It is interesting to note that at the beginning of the new era in 1868, the government tried to displace Buddhism in favor of Shintoism. This effort is explained by the understandable interest that the Emperor, or to use the more common title, the Mikado, has in this religion that connects him with the founder of the Empire as well as Heaven and thus must have been seen as suitable to strengthen the Imperial power restored by the great reform movement. In the year 1876, by the way, freedom of religion was declared and from this principle Christendom has profited too. At least Roman-Catholic bishops have been installed in Tokyo, Nagasaki, Kyoto and in Sandani a few years ago.

The temple on the island apparently built already in the 6th or 7th century and dedicated to received its form in the 12th century by Kiyomori which made it famous as a building in Western Japan. As a Shinto shrine the temple, that the Kannuschi, that is the Shinto priests, had illuminated in our honor even if only sparsely, is characterised by tall gallows-like portals called Torii that stand on poles and are attached to the sides.  The temple contains a multitude of rooms for the sanctuaries and connecting paths.

We were not allowed to enter into the actual temple rooms but we could at least take a look without seeing much that was remarkable beyond candle holders and images. In the center of the main temple one could see some kind of pedestal which was intended for festive processions on high holy days and flanked by two bronze dragons, true  metal master works. Strangely formed tall bronze vases I had noticed already at the temple entrance.

The priests clad in white silk clothes and equipped with strange headdresses reminding of a bishop’s escorted us and showed us in two chambers all the objects instruments used for their divine services, and among many other things also splendid cloth that would make many of our ladies envious, furthermore grotesque masks and various swords some of which of a bulky length of 4,5 m and probably are only demonstration objects for certain ceremonies.

The temple on Miyajima shows in its sumptuous decoration already the consequence of an important Buddhist influence, as a pure Shinto temple is distinguished by its simplicity and especially by its absence of metal decorations or lacquer ornaments. Also its symbols are restricted to a round metal mirror as an image of god’s splendor, the Gohei, a paper affixed to a small wooden stick of which it is assumed that the spirit of the god will sit down and a gemstone or crystal ball as a sign of purity and power of god.

The large number of hanging votive pictures, some of which have considerable artistic merit and are very old, in a gallery of the temple is remarkable. Some of those have been created by the hands of famous masters. We met here a great variety of illustrations with all kinds of good and bad gods and spirits,  some of which with grotesque faces, monkeys, deer as well as other animals and in a colorful mix scenes from life, partly painted, partly carved, partly in-laid.

Even though it had already been considerably late at night, we still were sitting around, clad in Kimonos, at one of the pond kiosks, smoking, chatting and sipping champaign enjoying the surrounding nature whose charms caused us to loudly lament the shortness of the stay in Miyajima allocated by the program.

Finally we took a cooling bath in the waves of the stream by jumping straight from the veranda of the kiosk into the water and happily splashed around in it under the shine of red lampions.


  • Location: Miyajima, Japan
  • ANNO – on 06.08.1893 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 „Cavalleria rusticana“.

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