Nikko, Japan

Tuesday, October 1, 1929

After breakfast I packed up, then called the girl in. Getting real generous I gave her a yen and darned if she didn’t look at it as though it were all over her head. Perhaps they don’t tip at Japanese hotels. There was some delay at the office due to the difficulty of making out my bill in English. The entire personnel of the hotel turned out en mass to bow me off. My girl was everywhere at once, speeding up the bill, tying a hotel tag on my suitcase, bowing. And when I had left and was half way to the corner darned if she didn’t come tearing up the street with a souvenir towel, which called for a repeat of elegant bows. My technique is much improving.

Threatening every corner to take a tram at the next, I walked to the Ueno Station across the street from Ueno Park. As Nikko is the furtherest [sic.] north I shall go, and with two weeks before sailing, I have a happy feeling of not giving a darn about anything. If I miss a train (as I did by 5 minutes), why there are a dozen more in the next 24 hours. If I lose my suitcase, I won’t have anything to carry but my ears. If an auto hits me, I won’t have to look for a hotel in Nikko, and if no hotels suit, there are benches in the station. If I don’t like that, I know what I can do about it.

Truck farming, wheat, etc. help take the place of some paddy fields in this section north of Tokyo. Many trees lend charm to the picture. Japan has a vast wealth in timber. Her mountainsides are covered with it; trees are everywhere.

The country through which I passed today was flat for the most part. Mountains were on both sides of us, but not until I had changed to the branch line did I get into the real beauty of them. There were a great many young school kids on the train going home, the boys in their military caps and semi-military uniforms, the girls in an outfit that should be considered a national disgrace—or calamity. The motif is western—a cheap get-up of stockings, blouse, and shirt, all black—and a long braided pigtail hanging to the waist. The person who invented that should have been shot just before the idea hit him. As I whole I do not consider the Japanese woman as good-looking as the Chinese. Certainly these girls are no raving beauties and they sorely need a kimono or two to hide what a dress doesn’t. That’s a hint to reformers and patriotic citizens. If you can’t improve the shape of the girls, stick to kimonos.

The railroad climbed up through, rather past, a couple of overgrown foothills to come to an end at the foot of the mountains—Nikko. This time I had a hotel in three minutes—two yen with food, 96¢. The room is not so elaborate. Two sides are of sliding doors, paper being used instead of glass, one leading to the hall, the other on to a balcony overlooking the street. The third wall is also of sliding doors, but fastened shut, leading into another room. My fourth wall is half taken up by a window of glass looking out toward the mountains, and the other half is the usual built-in “ladies delight”—the built-in floor being four inches high and supporting a dresser two feet high, and a vase of flowers on a small carved stand. In the center of the room is the large croque [crock] of dust ashes, from which protrudes an iron rest for the iron kettle in which water for the tea is kept boiling—due no doubt to a number of glowing charcoals beneath. Me sitting cross-legged on the floor beside the tea set completed the happy home. It is cool in the daytime, even in the sun, and cold at night. Darned glad they have furnished me with two kimonos, one light one to be worn under the heavy one.

I was feeling real noble this afternoon and decided to have my clothes washed while I could still get them off of me. The boy returned a few minutes later and by signs made me to understand the washing process would take a week. I hadn’t realized they were so dirty. Maybe he’s right though. But that makes me uncertain whether my shirt is made of dirt or cloth. If I rub it, the thing falls to pieces.

Nikko is another town that lives from the tourist trade. A beautiful winding road lined with huge cryptomerias [Cryptomeria japonica, Japanese Cedar] leads through green fields, small villages, between grassy embankments, and over trickling streams to Nikko. The one block from the station a canyon of souvenir shops, restaurants, and hotels meets Cryptomeria Avenue under these trees and turns west toward the main business section. This consists of one long unpaved street climbing up at a good grade till it reaches East Town and the edge of town where is seen the famous Sacred Bridge.

The trees soon give way to lamp posts that shed a feeble light after dark. This street too is solid with Japanese hotels (doing a good business from the number of shoes sitting at the door), souvenir shops, and restaurants. The ideal establishment seems to be a combination of the three. Yet there is something about the place that is very attractive—and the mountains ahead, their peaks shrouded in misty drifting clouds—and the throngs of people returning from pilgrimages and visits to the temples, shrines, and other places of interest. I spent some time watching a lottery for cloth that was being conducted by a hotel. Everybody was in high spirits—joking, jostling one another, cheering the winners, laughing at their own hard luck. It was really interesting to watch. I was struck by the light-heartedness of these people in comparison to the people of pessimistic India, of Indo-China, China. The difference of course is because the Japanese are no longer a depressed people. Yet I have heard that though they are happy to all appearances on the surface, they are unhappy within due to their religion. I can readily believe this of the followers of some sects of Buddhism in Japan such as the Shingon, which attempts to satisfy the people by magic, prayers, divination and mystic ceremonies, and by the repetition of sacred words which have special power. Buddhist priests are a more learned group now than formerly, but even today there are many who take advantage of the ignorance and superstitions of the people to sell them worthless charms, etc. so that they may enter paradise and find Nirvana, that is to lose one’s identity in Buddha. Sects that condemn and place hell continually before you would naturally not be conducive to a happy frame of mind. But then there are the Pure Land sects and the Zen Sect. The former satisfies the longing by frequent repetition of Amida’s (God of mercy) name, the latter by its promise of mystic union with Buddha, by its belief in the Absolute Buddha. I believe that by far the majority of the people are as happy within as without.

Well—the dinner was very nice, but my new girl is not as efficient as the one in Tokyo—nor does she bow as much nor as low.

Comments are closed.