Clive Holland.

Old and new Japan online

. (page 5 of 23)
Online LibraryClive HollandOld and new Japan → online text (page 5 of 23)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

from these same priests the faithful and the curious can
obtain little prayers in red ink, printed on tissue paper and
pasted to a piece of card, which those who are too igno-
rant — or shall one say too lazy — to master the proper form
of words to make supplication may deposit in lieu of the
uttered prayer, without misgivings as to the effective-
ness of the substitute. In the Kagura Do hard by is the
woman, old and unlovely, who dances the sacred kagura
dance, which is graceful, as are all Japanese dances, and
consists chiefly of swaying motions of the body.

At the summit of the hill is a curving group of elegant
and stately pine trees, whose straight-growing trunks
gleam red in the sunlight and contrast with the sombre
green of their branches. Isolated and apparently deserted
stands the tomb of the great Iyeyasu, and at first this
shrine of light-hued bronze — whose colour betokens that
gold was used in the alloy of which it is made — seems in
shape not unlike a modern round English pillar-box with a
somewhat exaggerated "mushroom" top; and about half-way
up its height is a recess closed by two small doors, behind
which rests the urn containing the ashes of the great dead.
It is surrounded by a low stone wall with a balustrade,
in which is a bronze door to serve as its gateway. In
front of the tomb, standing on a low stone table, is a bronze
stork, with a candle placed in its bill and a tortoise beneath
its feet ; and a bronze vase, with a lotus, also of metal,
standing in it. Simple accompaniments and decorations
these, many will doubtless say ; but nevertheless full of
deep significance, for the tortoise and the stork are
emblems of the immortality which invests the names of


the nation's great ones. This, then, is all. Amid the
silence of the hills, a stillness only disturbed when the
winds play sweet, weird music in the pine branches, above
the dazzling splendour and bewildering artistry of the great
temple, lies the shrine-tomb and the ashes of the great
prince Iyeyasu.

To those who know his history there will appear a
clear but nevertheless strange significance in all this ;
and the progressive grandeur of the temple and its ap-
proaches down the hillside, and final solitude and simplicity
of Iyeyasu's tomb, are but emblematic of his life. He
climbed the earthly ladder of fame into a dazzling splen-
dour of position and reputation, just as by progressive
stages the beauty of the great temple down the hillside
is approached ; and then he shed gradually its glories and
pomp of circumstance as his soul climbed upward, till at
last, surmounting all earthly things, it entered the great
Silence. Thus is the story of the hero written in imperish-
able form in the great temple of Nikko.

There are, however, many other temples at Nikko,
for example the Shinto temple Futara-no-Jin-ja. In
front stands the legendary bronze lantern called Bake-
mono-to-ro, which is popularly supposed to have formerly
possessed the power of assuming demon shape, and whilst
in that form of annoying the inhabitants of Nikko on dark
nights. At last a courageous man attacked and wounded
the demon in the head, and thus put an end to its depre-
dations. In the cap of the lantern is shown a dent which
is said to be where the sword struck the demon.

All Buddhist temples are constructed on the same plan,
and thus it is that when one has been described all have
been more or less so.

But, as we have said in a previous chapter, Buddhism
is now merely a formal religion, yearly more neglected if
not positively increasingly despised. The devotion of the


Japanese to their ancient national faith has been perpetu-
ated by many temples ; but they are far more severe in type
than those of Buddha. One of the most beautiful and
chaste in Kyoto (which like Nikko has many of size and
importance) is the Hon-gwan-ji. This fane was, indeed,
a labour of love, for not only was a large part of the
8,000,000 yen (,£1,600,000) it cost contributed by peasants,
but by them was supplied also much of the exquisite wood
of which it is built. Many, too, " worked " the wood, and
gave their labour ungrudgingly. To the sacred building
also women contributed of what they value most highly.
Only the greatest faith or greatest love can induce a
Japanese woman to sacrifice her whole head of hair,
although locks of hair are frequently to be seen suspended
before an Izumo shrine. What acts of faith and love
of women, therefore, must be enshrined in the long cables
of their hair which served to raise each beam' and rafter
of the great Hon-gwan-ji temple into place - -hawsers of
the soft black hair of youth and early womanhood ; the
coarser of middle age ; and the pathetic locks of the aged,
withered-looking and shot with grey, which now hang
suspended in the temple, lasting memorials of faith and
voluntary sacrifice.

Into this building, which is one of the glories of Kyoto,
come the poorest of the very poor, the weary, old and
worn, who kneel upon the golden-tinted matting and roll
their offerings — mostly one or two rin pieces — across the
floor towards the altar, until it looks as though it had
veritably rained these tiny coins.

The sculptured bronze gates of Nagoya's masterpiece
are always open, as though in invitation to the toiling ones
to enter and find peace within, where the memory of
factory and workshop, and the bustle of the busy town
may for the time be forgotten. The wide open space of
its earthen courtyard, environed by trees, gives a dignity


to the temple, which, built entirely of wood and guiltless
alike of paint or stain, is so faded and weather-worn by age
and wind and rain that in the sunshine it stands out clear-
cut, pathetic, and grey against the brilliant light.

Under the eaves are carved with exquisite care number-
less saints and sacred animals : all now colourless with
age. Inside the time-worn temple the space is divided
into three parts by slender, square columns of wood ; but
along the whole width of the interior is a glint of gold,
with the centre and two side-altars shining in a dim
sober light. There is no such riot of colouring as
is found in many Buddhist temples. On a lotus leaf a
figure of Amida Butsu — the Eternal Buddha — stands with
uplifted hands, an ebon-hued figure against a golden back-
ground. Age-worn wood, relieved by dull gold and black,
are all the decorations of this peaceful temple, in which
many daily kneel whilst the city beyond the walls toils
and labours, and in the unending struggle of life men and
women are forging links in the eternal chain of sin which
the Shinto faith teaches goes on for ever, with only
Buddha, the just and merciful, to interpose and save the
makers from the wages of death they have earned.

Of this great Lord Buddha, whose tenets have held
sway in Japan for nearly twelve centuries, there are many
images besides those which find a place in every Buddhist
temple throughout the land. The most famous of them
all is the great bronze figure, which for six centuries has
sat at Kamakura, near Yokohama, peacefully and still ;
silhouetted against the blue sky amid the cherry-trees of
the temple gardens — the great Lord Buddha with the
heavy-lidded eyes and inscrutable smile, fifty feet in stature,
and made of sheets of bronze, the sole surviving relic,
save a few stones, of the beautiful temple in which in the
middle of the thirteenth century the figure was placed.
Amida Butsu, with eyes of pure gold and the silver bump


of wisdom in the centre of the brow, revered by rich and
poor alike, visited by numberless pilgrims, has sat through-
out the ages unchangeable. Once protected, by a magni-
ficent temple 150 feet square, from the heat of summer,
the chill winds of autumn, the snow of winter, and the
soft nacre-tinted shower of cherry-blossom petals which
now fall upon its shoulders and into its lap in the exquisite
Japanese spring, it now looks out over the gardens and
the kneeling throng of worshippers with unseeing, golden
eyes and unchanging placid smile. Once the glory of a
huge city of nearly a million inhabitants, it is now merely
a pilgrimage spot. Both the city and the temple surround-
ing the shrine were swept remorselessly away by a tidal
wave of the great Pacific ; but the great statue of Amida
Butsu remained unmoved amid the wreckage of the temple
in which it sat, and the destruction of the great city, and
the seething multitudes hurried to a sudden and fearful
death. Twice the temple was built and twice destroyed ;
and now only a few sheds, and a few stones of the former
buildings, remain to mark the spot where the great shrine
of Buddha, with its huge roof supported upon threescore
and more of massive wooden pillars, once stood.

There is no Sunday in Japan, nor are there any special
days consecrated to offerings before this great idol, though
on certain days special forms of worship are used. And
so the adoration of Amida Butsu goes on almost un-
ceasingly day by day, week by week, month by month,
and year by year. This colossal figure must, we think,
impress most who have seen it as the material embodiment
of the Buddhist faith, whose tenets teach serene calm,
the mutability of all earthly things, and the unchangeable-
ness of the great Amida Butsu.

To the Japanese themselves the meaning of this
impassive image is much or little according to the indi-
vidual faith that is within them. It does not, however,


symbolise the religion of Japan, which, as we have already
sought to make clear, lies deeper and nearer the
national heart and life than the mere worship of this
lonely figure of Buddha with its impenetrable smile,
which has survived the life of centuries, and the destruction
of a great city of barbaric magnificence, whose million
inhabitants once bowed before it within the temple to the
music of the Pacific waves, which break upon the shore
close at hand. And as the figure sits on through the
centuries, generations come and go, playing their part in
the pageantry of life, and at last marching into the Great
Silence which is as inscrutable to mortal sight and search-
ing as the mystical smile of Amida Butsu itself. The
great idol of Kamakura teaches one lesson, that God is
unchangeable, the same for ever and ever. And with this
mortals must fain be content.

In all Japan there are no shrines like those of Ise,
where, shut in by the everlasting hills, stands the most
sacred shrine in all the land, that of the great Sun-Goddess
Amaterasu, from whom Tenshi-sama, the Son of Heaven,
Emperor of Japan, is descended.

At Ise there are many festivals, amongst others Ki-
nen-sai, " Praying for Harvest," which takes place on
February 4th ; Tsuki-nami-no-matsuri, " Monthly Fes-
tival," on June 15th; Kan-name, " Divine Tasting," Sep-
tember 15th and 1 6th; Shin-zo-sai, " Harvest Festival,"
on November 23rd ; and before each of the foregoing (and
other festivals) and once in every month, O-barai, a Great
Purification, is performed. At Ise also there are many
temples, the architecture of which is stated to be in the
purest and most ancient style, and is chiefly distinguished
for the absence of colouring and elaborate carvings, and
the restraint of its ornamentation in metal work.

The tree-environed road to the shrine of the Sun-
Goddess runs downwards to the edge of the rushing river,


and passes a still, grey pool, known as the Pool of Purifi-
cation, in which all those who are on their way to the
temple wash. Peasant and pilgrim, pedlar and kurumaya,
who with dusty, tireless feet hastens along between the
slender bamboo shafts of his jinrikisha, all stop to plunge
their hands and feet in the waters of this secluded pool.
Through the wood of cryptomerias and camphor trees,
whose bark is supposed to have the power of calming the
anger of the sea when thrown into it, the stone pathway
winds till it comes to a flight of steps which passes beneath
a gateway. Beyond is a rough wooden wall, against
which stands a Japanese soldier on guard before the

Just beyond the gateway is yet another which is usually
closed by a pure white curtain, which prevents all save
privileged persons seeing further into the shrine. This is
the veil of Amaterasu-O- Mi-Kami, the Sun Goddess, behind
which, through the centuries since Japan took form as a
nation, her shrine has stood. Within this since the year
B.C. 4, when the princess who had charge of the mirror
and mythical sword of the Goddess, after much wandering,
chose this impressive and beautiful spot for a permanent
temple and shrine, the former has remained. The sword
was soon afterwards lent to the nephew of the princess,
Yamato-dake-no-mikoto. Behind the veil rests the sacred
mirror (which some Japanese writers refer to as though
it were the deity herself, and others consider it merely an
image or representation of the Goddess) locked in a box
made of hi-no-ki wood, on a low stand covered with white
silk. The mirror or image itself is wrapped in a bag of
brocade, which has not within the memory of generation
upon generation been opened, and is never taken off for
renewal when the fabric shows signs of falling to pieces
with age. It is merely placed in another bag, and the
mystery of its contents has thus been perpetuated from


age to age, so that now the actual covering of the sacred
relic is formed of many layers. Over the whole stands a
wooden cage-like structure, ornamented with pure gold,
and itself completely covered with a piece of coarse silk.
It is this covering which the faithful pilgrims gaze upon
with adoration, when at festivals the doors of the chapel
are thrown open. None save the Mikado, her far-removed
descendant, can pass behind the white curtain which hangs
fold upon fold. The Japanese soldier is placed on guard
lest some sacrilegious stranger should so much as attempt
to touch or raise its mystic folds. There has been at least
one distinguished victim of curiosity (and, strange to say, a
Japanese), Viscount Mori, the head of the Department of
Education and a Cabinet Minister. He sought to push
aside the curtain with his stick, and, the act of attempted
sacrilege becoming known in Tokyo, a young Government
clerk named Nischino, after assuring himself of the truth
of the story, one day stabbed the Minister to death. How
sacred is the inviolate shrine esteemed by the people at
large is shown by the fact that popular sympathy was all
on the side of the murderer.

The outside of the shrine, which is a grey-brown
wooden building, unornamented and unadorned in any
way, with a roof of thatch, which is pierced in two places
by the cross-beams which rise anchor-shaped and bound
with gold, is all that may be seen by the curious ; far
more truly impressive in its simplicity than the most
splendid work of man could be. Set in a wide space,
with the sombre belt of trees engirdling it, and these them-
selves environed by the circle of pale blue distant hills,
every twenty years the shrine is born again : rebuilt by
priestly hands the same to the minutest detail, each time
through the long centuries.

And there in her perpetual shrine rests the Sun
Goddess, older than the encompassing mountains, set


deep in the hearts and imagination of the Japanese race,
assured of eternal youth by reason of eternal worship.

In the deserted temple of Tesshuji, where from their
low hill the Gods look out over the exquisite sea, calm
and blue, to great Fuji San beyond, in which the altars
are bare and silent and the courtyard grass-grown and
mossy, one has another phase of Buddhism — a phase
which points to the neglect of the more ceremonial faith
whilst that of the nation still flourishes. There the smiling
Buddhas dream on in placid content, whilst both the life
and mind of the people who in past ages worshipped at
their shrines are undergoing a subtle but wonder-working



THE Japanese home, so far as its more material
aspect is concerned, is more or less familiar to most
people through the medium of photographs and
pictures. But notwithstanding this fact, there are
several misconceptions which have arisen (how
it is somewhat difficult to say) regarding even the mere
structural arrangement of Japanese houses. Those of the
better class are by no means the unsubstantial and even
flimsy things of paper walls and bamboo frame as has so
often and so erroneously been stated.

A' well-built Japanese dwelling is open, it is true, to
the four winds of heaven ; and there is no " ventilation "
problem to trouble the architects of Japan. Delicate
joinery is used wherever possible, and most houses are
distinguished by a lightness and airiness which is not only
healthful, but charming. But except for the walls — which
are chiefly formed of beautifully fitted sash work — the com-
ponent parts of a Japanese house are actually characterised
less by flimsiness than solidity. A house with any claim to
be well constructed must to all intents and purposes be
earthquake proof. It is true that the poorer houses are
not so built, and in consequence there is a great danger,
when an earthquake of any severity occurs, of these dwell-
ings collapsing and the cttbris taking fire. Indeed, the

greater number of fatalities taking place at earthquake

1 60


time arise from deaths by burning of the unfortunate
people who have been temporarily buried under the ruins
of their overthrown dwellings.

But the better-class houses, as we have indicated, are
of a lasting character. And, although from the fact that so
much wood and other highly-inflammable material is used
in their construction, the term of their existence is often short
in the denser portions of large cities, where fires are of
frequent occurrence, some houses in the country districts,
where isolation has spelled for them safety, are frequently
found which in their timbers and look of age bear witness
to centuries of use, and care and solidity of construction.
To enable the Japanese house to resist successfully the
shocks of earthquakes, not only are solid materials of neces-
sity employed for the framework of the buildings, but
extreme care of construction is a sine qua non. The
builders have most ingeniously and successfully complied
with these conditions. Of foundations (as is usually under-
stood by the term) there are none, for the object aimed at
is to isolate the building as far as may be from the earth ;
and this is accomplished by erecting them upon pillars,
which are not driven or embedded in the ground, but are
themselves supported upon stones. Thus it happens that
though the vibration of the earth may rock the house,
unless the shock is of quite unusual severity it cannot effect
its overthrow. The frame of the house itself is so made
that it offers the greatest possible resistance to the destruc-
tive motion of the earthquake. Solid and with a system of
curious bracing and dovetailing, which is the result of
centuries of study and practical conflict with the dreaded
power of earthquake shocks, this is able to offer its full
share of resistance.

To most Western minds the enormous weight of the
average Japanese roof would at first appear not only a
mistake, but a source of very considerable danger. But


just as many things are topsy-turvy in the Mikado's empire,
the Japanese place as it were their ballast on top instead of
low down. If the houses were not isolated in the manner
we have described, the heavy roof would be a great source
of danger, but owing to the fact that from this system of
isolation the earthquake cannot get any hold upon the
building, the additional weight serves to solidify and steady
the whole structure. The underlying principle of Japanese
architecture, owing to the exceptional circumstances of con-
stant seismic disturbances, thus becomes another example
of the strange reversal of European ideas, needs, and
methods which distinguishes the whole life of the people.
In a word, the roof usurps the function of a foundation, and
top-heaviness becomes an element of safety.

But although the roofs of Japanese houses are not only
unusually heavy in themselves, but are often additionally
weighted, the skill of the architects who first devised them
was sufficient to prevent any undue appearance of clumsi-
ness. The " way out " is, like so many other means to an
end of this ingenious people, delightfully simple. By bend-
ing the broad eaves upwards in graceful curves instead of
downwards, the appearance of the house is transformed
from one of weight and solidity into one of aerial lightness.

But the Japanese house has several characteristics which
greatly distinguish it from similar buildings of other
nations. One in particular is the extraordinary economy
with which the general and most artistic effect has been
accomplished. Evolved during periods when the poverty
of the people was great, when sumptuary laws of a severe
character were in force, and when seismic disturbances were
probably of even more frequent occurrence than at the
present day, the economy was trebly enforced, and the
observance of it was an aid to social and political success
and advancement. The dwelling-house of Japan has thus
come to stand out as a shining example of what can be


done with limited means and simple materials when taste
and ingenuity both play their part.

Creating a lasting impression of being rather a summer
house than a substantial and practical habitation, the
Japanese dwelling is without any extraneous assistance
a thing of artistic merit and beauty. The long, narrow
engawa or veranda with its polished boards ; the unbroken
expanse of flooring, guiltless of encumbering furniture and
covered with soft matting ; the solid, highly-polished posts
standing here and there, supporting the cross-beams and
heavy burden of the roof, and forming so perfect a contrast
to the fragile lattice- work and paper screens which serve as
walls ; and the beam-work with a frieze-like effect produced
by panelled spaces, all go to the making of a habitation in
which one experiences no sensation of unpleasant bareness
nor need for completer decoration.

Even in the houses of the wealthy, where economy
from a monetary reason need not be practised, the restraint
which shows how closely akin the Japanese spirit as re-
gards artistic feeling is to that of ancient Greece is every-
where apparent. Decoration, when it can be afforded and
is desired, is almost always confined to the innermost part
of the house and to one spot. It must even here not be
in the least of an extraneous character. It is essential that
it shall form an embellishment of the existing structure.
It is upon the tokonoma, or place of honour, in the principal
room of the house, therefore, that the decorative skill of
the builder is generally expended. Upon this recess are
lavished the costly and beautiful woods in the delicate
grain, peculiar markings or colours of which the souls of
the Japanese carpenter and connoisseur delight. And to
the selection and acquisition of suitable woods the builder
gives much anxious thought ; and the carpenter in the
matching, fitting, and polishing exercises his greatest care
and skill. In the use of these beautiful woods, and their


perfect application to the decorative scheme, the whole art
of Japanese architectural decoration is confined. There is
no carving, no division of the columns into base, capital,
or shaft, no moulding, no paint. The column and beam
are left as nature formed them, or merely squared and
polished. And yet, notwithstanding this fact, the total
cost of fitting the tokonoma not infrequently exceeds that
of the whole remainder of the house. In this nook is
hung a single rare and often priceless kakemono, a scroll
picture selected perhaps from dozens belonging to the
owner, and below it is placed the single growing plant
or flower, or a spray of blossom in a vase. These and
the low stand upon which is a single example of lacquer,
cloisonne*, or other curio, also selected for the time being
from many treasures, are all that is seen of furnishing
or decoration upon entering a Japanese home.

By the subtle etiquette and politeness of Japan these
are frequently changed for other kakemono, plants, flowers,

1 2 3 5 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23

Online LibraryClive HollandOld and new Japan → online text (page 5 of 23)