Talbot Watts.

Japan and the Japanese : from the most authentic and reliable sources; with illustrations of their manners, costumes, religious ceremonies,&c online

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Online LibraryTalbot WattsJapan and the Japanese : from the most authentic and reliable sources; with illustrations of their manners, costumes, religious ceremonies,&c → online text (page 1 of 19)
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BY T A L B O T WATTS, M . D .,



1 852.





To whom, and through whose sanction, the following pages are

most respectfully dedicated, as a humble but lasting tribute to

his enlarged views of the rights of nations under whose

administration the Japanese Expedition was decided

upon, insuring the highest regard and perpetual

remembrance of a grateful country, by his

Excellency s most obedient servant,


424 Greenwich Street.



THE general interest manifested by all classes of society, for inform
ation upon the subject of Japan and the Japanese, renders useless any
apology for placing before the public all the reliable or valuable in
formation that can be obtained upon the subject in a form within the
reach of all. If it were only the great bulk and cost of many of the
works from which the information is derived, it would prevent a large
portion from participating in the knowledge ; but the scarcity of some
of the publications would render it thoroughly impossible for many
to obtain them, independent of the fact that but few would be ac
quainted with the names of the books from which the selections have
been made, viz : " The Universe Displayed, or a survey of the wonder
ful works of creation, and the various customs and inventions of men,
in which whatever is remarkable throughout the world, both with
respect to the works of Nature in Plants, Insects, Serpents, Beasts,
Birds, Fishes, &c., YD. four volumes, 8vo. R. Goadby: London: 1771."
It is doubtful if even another copy is to be found in the United States.
" The Wonders of Nature and Art, or a concise account of whatever is
most curious and remarkable in the world, compiled from Historical
and Geographical Works, of established celebrity, and illustrated with
the Discoveries of Modern Travellers, by the Rev. Thos. Smith, au
thor of the Universal Atlas, Sacred Mirror, &o., &c. Revised, corrected
and improved, by James Mease, M. D., &c. 14 vols : 12mo : Phila.,
1807." Then, the copies of the splendid engravings in Picart s Reli
gious Ceremonies ; the whole article from Malte-Brun s Modern Ge
ography, 3 vols. 4to : Boston : 1836with all its authorities j and all
from McCulloch s Geographical Dictionary, or Universal Gazeteer, 2
vols. 8vo. : 1851 as well as the various extracts from other sources.


In fact, any other plea for profering information upon the subject
would be ridiculous.

And as to any speculative or prosy articles upon the probable suc
cess of the present Expedition, would be alike presumptuous ; all that
I feel warranted in saying is, no expectation can be realized, that Ja
pan may have progressed in knowledge or civilization, owing to their
seclusion and degenerating influences of their social and religious in
stitutions. This remark is made from hearing it expressed, that " It is
probable they may have changed their views, and partake in some de
gree of the spirit of universal progress, evinced by the people of the
United States." But without flattery to that people, experience
teaches us that it is not their example that is capable of imitation,
even by the most enlightened nations of Europe, that it is not only
owing to the vast amalgamation of persons from the most distant climes,
but of all circumstances, together, conspiring in one firm band of
union to make a Model Nation, vast in its resources of all vastness ; it
is to no one quality or characteristic of its climate, soil, productions,
or its people, but the combination of the whole \ all are equally in
debted to each, and each to all. The energies of the people are as
much the cause of its resources, as the resources are the causes of the
energies j therefore, there can be no analogy in its antithesis, as Japan
and the Japanese must evidently be ; so taking that question as set
tled, that no amicable arrangements can be made, or if made, kept,
even for the slightest compact, therefore it is right to infer that all
such considerations and what they naturally lead to have been well
and deeply investigated by the powers, organizing the Expedition, and
that after duly examining their chances of success they will imme
diately after receiving the answer of the Emperor, (if he deigns one),
proceed to the Island of Formosa from the condition of which, it is
most probable would be ceded by its inhabitants without a struggle
or a shot, after which no prophetic Zadkiel need foretell the results.


424 Greenwich St.


JAPAN, or the Japan Islands, are but one hundred and fifty
miles east from China. They are situated in a most desirable
climate, and are blessed with a fruitful soil, which produces the
same sort of grain and fruits as China. They are most remarka
ble for the plenty of gold-dust to be met with here, and their
Japan cabinets, or lacquered ware and screens. They traffic only
with the Chinese and the Dutch. All other Christians, but the
Dutch, have been excluded from a share in this trade ever since
the year 1630. The Portuguese had, till then, the chief trade to
Japan, and had, as they state, converted a great part of the na
tion to Christianity ; but being charged with a conspiracy to usurp
the government, upon the Pope s supremacy, they and their nume
rous Christian proselytes were massacred or banished the Islands ;
and the Dutch were only suffered to trade thither, on their de
claring they were no Christians, or, perhaps, on the merit of
supplanting and assisting in expelling the Portuguese ; for it is
impossible that the Japanese can be ignorant that the Dutch pro
fess Christianity, as they trade to China ; and we find the Japa
nese use as much caution in their commerce with the Dutch, as if
they were really Christians.

At the season the Dutch fleet is expected, the Governor of
Nangascke places sentinels on the hills, to give notice of the ap
proach of any ships. When they appear, a boat is sent off to
every ship with a waiter or officer ; and as soon as the ships come
to an anchor, an express is immediately dispatched to court, be
fore whose return the Dutch are not to dispose of anything.

In the meantime the particulars of every ship s cargo are taken,
with the name, age, stature, and office of every man on board,
which is translated and printed in the Japanese language. When


the express is returned, the ship s crew arejpermitted to come on
shore, and are all mustered before a Japanese commissary. Every
person is called over aloud, and required to give an account of
his age, quality, and office, to see if it agrees with the particulars
given in by the Dutch. After this examination they are sent on
board again ; and the sails of the ship, with the guns, arms, am
munition, and helm, are brought on shore, and the hatches sealed
down by a Japanese officer ; nor can they be opened, whatever
the ship s crew want, without permission from the governor, who
always sends a person to see what is taken out, and seal them down
again ; nor dare the Dutch sailors light a candle, or make any
noise on board their ships, any more than on shore. The ships
are allowed no communication with one another ; nor is any officer
or sailor suffered to go on shore, except the persons who are ap
pointed to carry the company s present to the King of Yeddo. His
Majesty having accepted the present, and prepared another for the
company, the Dutch officer is conveyed to Nangascke under a
strong guard. This journey, and the transaction of their mer
cantile affairs, usually take up about three months and a half.
The Dutch, who attend the king on this occasion, approach him on
their knees, with their hands joined together, and carried to their
foreheads. The Japanese governors and ministers always ap
proach him in the same manner.

While the Dutch ships lie in the road, none of the Japanese are
allowed to go on board to trade with the sailors ; and those that
carry provisions on board, are not suffered to take any money for
them, till the permission to trade comes from court, and then they
deliver in their accounts, and are paid. After this the Japanese
permit six persons from every vessel to come on shore, and buy
and sell for themselves, and stay four days, either in Disnia or in
the city, as they see fit. "When these six men return on board,
six others are allowed to go on shore, and traffic in like manner,
and so on.

The goods are generally paid for in bullion, or pieces of silver
of ten or five crowns value, or smaller pieces, by weight ; for they
have no coin, except little pieces of copper.

After six weeks free trade, there is no further communication
allowed between the city of Nangascke and the Dutch, in the
Island of Disnia or with the shipping ; whereupon the fleet pre
pares to return, and the factors in Disnia are confined to their lit
tle island again, till the season of the year for traffic returns.

The Island which we call Japan, but which the inhabitants


call Nippen, is divi^l into six great provinces, which are sub-
divided into several lesser ones, governed by lords or princes, W!K
are all subject to the Emperor. Some of these lords are rich in
corn and cattle, others in mines, such as gold, silver, copper, tin,
quick-silver, iron, &c. ; others are wealthy in woods, flax, cotton
or silk ; all which are well known to the Emperor by the secret
information sent him by those Secretaries whom he places among
them to manage their affairs ; for he recommends to every one of
them a secretary, with a letter to this effect : " Well-beloved, I
know you have many vassals and servants, and that the occasions
wherein you are to employ them are very great ; therefore I send
you a person, whose assistance may in some measure ease you of
the burthen which lies upon you, and of whose fidelity you may be
assured, inasmuch as I commend him to you, as one who hath been
brought up at my own house : make use of him, and take in good
part the care I have of your person and affairs."

These secretaries, for the most part, are such as have served the
Emperor in their youth, in his three chambers, and of whose abilities,
prudence and judgment, he is satisfied, assuring himself of their fidel
ity, besides the expressions he might find thereof during the time
of their service, by an act signed with their blood. The Empe
ror, through these secretaries, becomes acquainted with everything
done in the Provinces, as they keep an exact journal of whatever
they observe in the life and actions of princes to whom they are
sent, and who undertake nothing without their advice, nor do any
business in which they are not consulted. This gives them great
authority in the provinces, and makes the princes themselves
look on them as such, whose favor they stand in need of, to
keep a fair correspondence with the Court. On the other hand,
these princes are glad to have able and understanding persons
about them, such as may observe the miscarriages of their govern
ment, and have the confidence to be their remembrancers thereof ;
choosing rather that a faithful servant should acquaint them
therewith, so that they may be seasonably reformed, than that
they should become the discourse of the people, or any should
take occasion thence to do them ill offices about the Emperor.

The death of their great lords is commonly attended by the
voluntary execution of twenty or thirty vassals or slaves, who rip up
their bellies and die with their masters. These are obliged to do
this by an oath, and it is done partly by way of acknowledgment
of the particular kindness which their lords had for them. Having
acquainted their lord that they are willing to be obliged to sacri-


fice themselves in that manner when occasAi shall require, they
entertain him with a short discourse to nns purpose : " Most
mighty sir, you have many other slaves and servants, of whose af
fection and fidelity you are assured ; who am I, or what have I
deserved, that you should honor me with your favor above any
of the rest ? I resign up this life to you, which is already yours,
and promise you I will keep it no longer than it shall be service
able to yours." Then the lord and the vassal take off, each of
them, a bowl of wine, which is the most religious ceremony ob
served among them to confirm their oaths, which thereby become

To do this execution upon themselves, after the death of their
lord, they get together all the nearest of their kindred, who con
duct them to the Mesquite, or Pagode, where they all sit down upon
mats and garments, with which they cover the floor ; and
having spent some time in making good cheer, they rip up their
bellies, cutting them across, so that all the entrails come out;
and if that does not dispatch them, they thrust a knife themselves
into the throat, and so complete the execution. Nay, there are
some, who, on hearing that their master intends to build some
edifice, either for himself or the Emperor, will desire him to do
them the honor, that they may be laid under the foundations,
which they think are made immovable by that voluntary sacrifice ;
and if their request be granted, they cheerfully lay themselves
down at the foundation, having great stones cast upon them,
which soon put them out of all pain.

There is no lord, nor indeed any citizen or merchant, but may
put his vassals and domestics to death, and that by way of justice,
he himself being the judge ; but to others justice is administered,
all over the country, in the Emperor s name. Gentlemen and
soldiers have the privilege to be their own executioners, and to rip
up their bellies themselves ; but others are compelled to receive their
death from the hands of the common executioner. They allege,
as a reason for this proceeding, that merchants are, in some
respects, infamous, inasmuch as they are liars, for the most part,
and deceive those that trust them. Tradesmen they slight,
as being only but public servants ; and the peasantry is contempti
ble, by reason of the wretched condition they live in, which is
little better than that of slaves. Only the gentlemen and soldiers
are respected, and live at the charge and upon the labor of others.
There is no offence, though ever so small, but is punished with
death; but especially theft, though it were but for a penny.


Gaming, if it be forBfcney, which depends upon chance, or requires
skill, is considered a^Tpital offence. He who kills another, though
innocently, and in his own defence, is to die without mercy ;
with this difference, that those who kill in their own defence,
as also those who commit such faults or offences as would not
here be punished with death, die only themselves ; but other of
fenders involve all their kindred in their misfortune ; so that for
the crime of one single person, the father, brethren, or children,
are put to death, the wives and daughters are made slaves, and the
estate of the whole family is confiscated. And this happens so
frequently, that there are commissioners expressly appointed for
the administration of what is so confiscated ; yet does not the
money thus raised go to the King, but is employed in the build
ing of Pagodes, and the repairing of highways and bridges.

The torture thieves are put to, for want of evidence, makes
rather the unfortunate than the guilty to be condemned. They
take a piece of iron, about a finger thick and a foot square, and
make it red hot ; and as soon as the redness is gone, and the iron
returned to its own color, they put it to the hands of the party ac
cused, upon two sheets of paper, which immediately flame, and if
the accused person can cast the piece of iron upon a little hurdle
standing near him, without burning himself, he is dismissed ; but
if his hands are even touched by the fire, he is sentenced to
die. This crime is punished with a particular kind of death.
The criminal is tied with a straw-rope, by the neck, to a great
cane, across which they put two other canes, to which they fasten
the feet and the hands, and then the executioner runs him through
with a pike, from the right side up to the left shoulder, and from
the left side to the right shoulder ; so that being twice run through
the heart, he is soon dispatched. Sometimes they only fasten the
malefactor with his back to a post ? and make him stretch forth his
hands, which are held out by two men ; and then the executioner,
standing behind him, runs the pike in at the neck, and so into the
heart, and dispatches him in a moment.

The lords have such an absolute power over their menial ser
vants, that it requires but a pretence to put them to death. The
gentlemen and soldiers are, for the most part, very poor, and live
miserably ; but being highly conceited of themselves, most of
them keep servants, though only to carry their shoes after them,
which are indeed but a pair of soles, made of straw or rushes,
having a hole towards the toe, which keeps them on their feet.

The crimes for which all of the family or kindred are put to


death, are extortion, coming, setting house^m fire, ravishing of
women, premeditated murder, &c. If a Mm s wife be guilty of
any crime her husband is convicted of, she dies with him ; but if
she be innocent, she is made a slave. Their punishments bear no
proportion to the crimes committed ; but are so cruel that it is
not easy to express the barbarity exhibited. To consume with
a gentle fire, or only with a candle, to crucify with the head
downwards, to boil men in seething oil or water, to quarter and
draw them with four horses, are very ordinary punishments among

One who had undertaken to find timber and stones for the build
ing of a palace for the Emperor, and had corrupted the officers
appointed by him to receive and register what he should send in,
was crucified with his head downwards. He had the reputation
of being an honest man, and was one that had frequently obliged
several persons of quality ; insomuch that some resolved to petition
the Emperor for his pardon, though these intercessions for con
demned persons are in some sort criminal ; and indeed the Empe
ror took it so ill, that the lords who presented their petition for
him, received no other answer but the reproaches he made to them
for their imprudence. The officers who had been corrupted by
him, were condemned to rip up their bellies.

The following instance shows to what a degree the Japanese
punish all the members of a family for the fault of one : In the
year 1638, a gentleman on whom the King had bestowed the
government of a little province, near Jeddo, so oppressed the
country people, that they were forced to make their complaints
thereof to the Court ; where it was ordered that the said gentle
man and all his relations should have their bellies ripped up on the
same day, and as near as might be at the same hour. He had a
brother who lived two hundred and forty-seven leagues from Jeddo,
in the service of the King of Fingo ; an uncle who lived in Satsu-
ma, twenty leagues further ; a son who served the King of Kino-
cuni ; a grandson who served the King of Massamme, a hundred
and ten leagues from Jeddo ; and at three hundred and eighty
leagues from Satsuma, another son who served the Governor of
the Castle of Quanto ; two brothers who were of the regiment of
the Emperor s guards ; and another son who had married the only
daughter of a rich merchant near Jeddo ; yet were all these per
sons to be executed precisely at the same hour. To do that they
determined the time requisite to send the order to the farthest
place ; and having appointed the day for the execution there,


orders were sent to^R princes of all the places mentioned, that
they should all be pirc to death on the same day, just at noon,
which was punctually done. The merchant who had bestowed his
daughter on that gentleman s son, died of grief, and the widow
starved herself.

Lying is punished among them with death, especially that which
is told in a Court of Judicature. Princes and great lords are or
dinarily punished more cruelly than if they were put to death ; for
they are banished into a little island named Faitsensima, fourteen
leagues from the Province of Jeddo, and is nearly a league in cir
cumference. It has neither road nor haven ; and it is so steep
all about, that no doubt it was with the greatest danger imaginable
that the first who got up to it made a desperate effort to do it.
Those who first attempted it, found means to fasten great poles in
certain places, to which they have tied ropes ; and with these they
draw up those that are sent thither, and make fast the boats which
otherwise would split against the rocks by the first wind.

Nothing but a few mulberry trees grow on the Island, so that
they are obliged to send in provisions for the subsistence of the
prisoners. They are supplied every month, as is also the garrison
kept there ; but they are dieted very sparingly, being allowed
only a little rice, some roots, and other wretched fare ; they hardly
afford them a lodging over their heads ; and with all these mise
ries they are obliged to keep a certain number of silk-worms, and
to make a certain quantity of stuffs every year.

They who speak of the Sovereign Prince of all Japan, give him
the quality of Emperor, inasmuch as all the other lords of the
country on whom they bestow the title of King, depend on him and
obey him, not only as vassals, but as subjects, since it is in his
power to condemn them to death, to deprive them of their digni
ties, to dispossess them of their territories, and to banish or send
them to some island, for very trifling offences.

The Castle of Jeddo, the palace of the Emperor s ordinary resi
dence, is nearly two leagues in circumference, fortified with
three walls, and as many moats, very deep, and is built of free
stone, but so irregular that it is impossible to assign it any certain
figure. Within less than three hundred paces a man must pass
through eight or nine gates, not one of them standing opposite to
each other ; for, coming within the first he must turn on the right
hand to go to the second ; and having come within that, he turns on
the left hand to go to the third, and so on, alternately, till he comes
to the last. Just within this gate there is a magazine of arms for three


or four thousand men, on which jet out a^Rhc streets, which are
4air and broad, having on both sides many magnificent palaces. The
gates are secured with large iron bars ; and over every gate there
is a house wherein two or three hundred soldiers may be lodged.
The Emperor s palace stands in the middle of the Castle, and has
belonging to it many apartments, halls, chambers, closets, galleries,
gardens, orchards, groves, ponds, rivers, fountains, courts, &c., and
several particular houses for his wives and concubines. The ceil
ings of the halls and chambers are plated with gold and silver,
curiously raised and worked, and enriched with a variety of precious
stones. The hangings are of the richest silk, flowered with silver
and gold, pearl, and other embellishments. In the hall of audience,
where the Emperor receives homage or ambassadors, there is a
throne of massy gold, beset with large gems of inestimable value.
The roof, being lofty, is also plated with gold, richly enamelled
with curious figures and landscapes, and supported by stately gilded
columns. The gardens behind the apartments are laid out in
elegant taste, and are most agreeably diversified and adorned
with terraces, canals, fish-ponds, water-works, and other ornaments.

As you come out of the palace, you go into that quarter
where the Princes of the blood and Counselors of State live, and
thence into another quarter where are the palaces of the Kings

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Online LibraryTalbot WattsJapan and the Japanese : from the most authentic and reliable sources; with illustrations of their manners, costumes, religious ceremonies,&c → online text (page 1 of 19)