Kobe, Japan

Thursday, September 19, 1929

If one would study the customs of a people, travel third. When I at last had taken my ten more winks over a half dozen times, I sat up and marveled at how dirty I was. The train soon stopped at a station. I alighted but only to find the washing fountain so crowded there was not a chance. These blessings are found at many stations. A dozen spigots and a few mirrors aid dirty night-travelers to regain their cleanliness.

On the train the women were busy tidying up. I had lots of hints how to properly arrange the kimono-like dress, the sash and baby carriage that is always tied on the back. The Japanese also dress in a multitude of bright happy colors. Women’s dress is awfully attractive. They wear no stockings, but instead have a white sock coming to just above the ankle. This appears to be made of either white suede or of several layers of heavy cloth, and looks to be sewed on, though I doubt it for they are always so clean. Shoes—a board slightly larger than the foot, either an inch thick or having two perpendicular pieces on the sole, raising it two inches above the ground. The foot rests on a straw matting. The shoe is held on the foot by a V-shaped thong, the angle of which is at the toe and nailed down. This part is slid between the big toe and the second toe. Of course all socks have the big toe separate just as some mittens have the thumb separate and the other four fingers together.

The kimono hangs to the ankles, and is usually of pleasing colors and designs. A big sash is wound tightly around the body just below the breast to keep the kimono closed. Other tricky ribbons hold the attractive carriers (I guess they are) on the back.

As to the hair, it is always raven black, long and glossy. On the front of the head the hair is warped over a frame I guess, till it curls up and down to the forehead like a wave. One can see right through the blamed thing from one side to the other. Another such affair extends from the top of the head backwards, but it is more solid. A large puff on either side and perhaps a comb or two complete the job. The women of Japan have been a big surprise to me. I rarely ever see one that is not very neatly and attractively dressed. Even in the country toward evening you see dozens of fair and smiling maidens strolling along the footpaths between paddy-fields—all dressed in their many-colored kimonos, many carrying loudly painted Japanese parasols.

Of course you see some who are very poorly clad and others who have adopted European dress, but by far the large majority seem to be neatly and nicely dressed. However, I prefer their natural complexions in place of one covered in powder. A girl who powders invariably forgets the back of her neck and that section then appears dirty.

There is no false modesty lost in concealing breasts. On the boat, train or street it is a very common sight to see mothers nursing their young. And for some reason the girls do not flirt much, yet those who do are winning enough.

In comparison, the man is not so well dressed. The wife may look like a million dollars but hubby’s suit has seen better days three years ago. Still the Japanese man, speaking of the average, dresses quite well. He at least tries to appear respectable no matter what his clothes. His hair is black too—and too often made to appear ugly by close cropping.

The men have taken to European dress so much more readily than have the women. But the man in his kimono-like clothes or priest-like dress is common enough. In fact you often see outfits parading down main streets that would find themselves in police stations in America. Men wearing only a light cotton sleeveless shirt and trunks of the same material. These individuals always remind me of the man who was so absent-minded that he forgot his shirt and trousers. Those who add a shirt to the trunks strike me as having lost their trousers somewhere. Those who do not wear European clothes wear no socks and the same wooden shoes as do the women. Some have the slot sock, but black instead of white.

The country, as we neared Kobe, still continued mountainous but more densely populated. Cities became more frequent and larger. Factories were more numerous. We were going through a flat plain not far from the sea.

At last we came to the Kobe station, unimpressive, under repair, a bad first impression of Kobe. But the city has since proved more pleasant and is always disclosing new places of interest and beauty. A few minutes on the train to the Y.M.C.A. where I got a ton of dirt off. The director, a very nice Japanese, took me up to the room of a young (24) American who has been staying here, William Cecil Headrick. He fixed it up so I could stay in his room and save plenty as hotels are far from cheap here. From Kansas City (?), he spent last year in Germany in school. Rode through much of Europe on bike, in many places I did and in southern Germany where I didn’t. He came across Russia and Siberia on the Trans-Siberian Railway (12-day trip to Europe $60) and has been in Japan about a month. Has come from Europe on $200, a remarkable achievement, done by sleeping with farmers and peasants, no hotels. He is an interesting talker and a student of conditions of these countries through which he has traveled and has the courage of his convictions to grow not only a mustache but a goatee. He is soon returning to Germany via Siberia to use a scholarship he has won, and I believe intends to lecture upon his return to the States.

He showed me about town a bit and we tried unsuccessfully to find a Japanese guide book other than the large and expensive official one. I called on the Shipping Board agent, but he was out. There was a S.B. boat that left today at one o’clock.

Kobe’s business section is not as I had pictured it, but as I never get any great illusions about things I haven’t seen, I was not disappointed. There are many very nice office buildings, most of the streets are of fair width though a majority are of gravel or else bumpy asphalt, and shops and stores are quite modern. You can buy sodas, etc. in drug stores and all sorts of sweets in candy shops or bakeries. We had a game of ping pong and later lunch in a little native restaurant measuring 4′ x 10′, one table and a wall shelf. We ate our fish, rice, and cooked vegetables with chopsticks. Mine cost 7½¢, 15 sen. The proprietor and his wife of course couldn’t speak English, but showed their pleasure by broad grins and many smiles—and with much bowing brought us our food. Japanese are very polite. When meeting a friend or being introduced, they bow low, both men and women. When taking leave, one bows twice, very low. I like the custom.

Went up to the Nunobiki Waterfalls in the afternoon. A very pretty spot in the hills that back up Kobe. There is a temple nearby, too. You can have tea etc. in nice tea houses overlooking Kobe, the falls, or other pretty scenes.

Another game of ping pong before dinner at the Y. Such prices—a good meal for 30 sen—15¢.

Bill had an English lesson to teach from seven to nine. Makes 3 you—$1.50 for two hours—not bad. Afterward we walked down to the business section which is interesting at night—that is, the main drag, Motomachi St. It is well lighted by half arc lights that extend up a curve from each side of the street, but fall short of meeting. The shops have a great variety of interesting displays—silks, jewelry, leather goods, shoes of all kinds, sweets, books, etc.

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