October 28th to 31st 1871

Oct. 28th. Evening
I intended to have gone to Yokohama today for the purpose of buying two silk dresses, one for you and one for my mother, but business presses and I am compelled to get (Page 116) Wasson to attend to it, calling in the assistance of Mrs Dove. After working hard all day I started out for a ride with Horé this evening about five o’clock. It is some sort of a festival today and I saw much of which I will give an account tomorrow.

Oct. 29th. Evening
Now for the account of what I saw yesterday. In the first place I was struck by the immense crowd on the Tokaido, or main street, which is a portion of the great high road which extends from one end of the Empire to the other. There could have been no less than a hundred thousand people in the two miles of its length through which we passed. I hesitated about riding through the crowd for it seemed so densely packed as to render the passage of a horse impossible. Horé however, rode ahead and in front of him the bettos ran calling out loudly to the people, who with the greatest good humour opened with difficulty a passage for us. I am sure the crowd was much more good humoured than an American one would have been in such circumstances. The procession which was the cause of all the assemblage, as well as the gay appearance of the houses along the line which were opened to the utmost (Page 117) and filled by Japanese ladies and children in holiday costumes, was about half a mile in length and was composed of cars similar in most respects to that of which I sent you a drawing last mail, except that these were much handsomer and had their platforms filled with musicians. Besides the bands, each car contained one or more buffoons, comically dressed, who performed all sorts of pantomimic absurdities as the car, drawn by a strong bull, moved slowly through the street. Most of these performers wore masks made in caricature of animals, the fox, which is highly respected by Japs, being a favourite. In front of each car marched a company of about fifty men dressed in uniform, fancy costumes which differed from each car, and these fellows sang some sort of song at the tops of their voices. In front of the last car walked a party of children of about Webb’s age, who were also dressed in fancy costume and were decorated with artificial flowers. As many of the crowd were also in masquerade and with dresses of the brightest colours, it was a brilliant scene. This procession, and I believe most of the kind, are simply a sort of carnival with even less religious meaning than that of Rome. If they ever had any meaning (Page 118) of the kind it has been lost sight of and they are observed merely on occasions of jollity.
I came home by another street to avoid the crowd and I saw something which perhaps no other foreigner has ever seen. I met the Empress of Japan. She was quietly walking with two lady attendants in the vicinity of the palace, just outside the outer wall. You will naturally ask how I know it to be the Empress. I suspected it from the dress in the first place. For she wore a peculiar coiffure that I have seen on figures of the wives of the Mikado, and she had beside her proper natural eyebrows two more painted on her forehead high above. As no other Japanese female dare assume this costume even as a masquerade I felt tolerably certain. The Japs who were with me seemed both surprised and interested, and assured me it was the Mikado’s wife, for he has but one, although they had never before seen her. It is in fact only a week since she appeared in sight at all, having always before, like her predecessors from time immemorial, gone out from the palace only in a closed sedan chair. And now I suppose I must give a description of Mrs Mikado’s dress, which I am able to do pretty well, as I am ashamed to say that (Page 119) I took a good long stare at her which rather put the lady out of countenance. Well, to begin at the top: her hair was dressed very simply, being simply drawn back over two puffs at the side and twisted in to a large knot behind. Over this she wore a white head dress, or something like that of an Italian peasant, save that the corners were rounded and it did not hang lower than the neck. She wore a green crêpe robe, embroidered much in the style of the dressing gown I sent you, but so short that it allowed the best possible glimpse of a scarlet crêpe pettiskirt below which revealed as she walked a pair of dainty little bare feet shod with sandals. Of her face I wish I could give you a decent sketch. In spite of the disfiguring extra eyebrows, she was beautiful. If I can come anywhere near the original I will endeavour to send a sketch of her at least representing her costume.
So much for yesterday. Today I wrote till four o’clock and then strolled to buy some fans, one of which I intend for Mrs Blanchard, one for Mother Heath, if it is near enough mourning, and the other is for you to dispose of as you like, provided you don’t give it to Mrs Case or Betty Clark. As it is not worth while (Page 120) for you to keep it yourself. For you will soon be able to pick your own. I suggest that you give it to Mrs Ritchie with my love. Dear me, here I’ve written a lot of stuff that should have gone in my private letter to you, but didn’t.

Oct. 30th. Evening
Wrote official letters all the morning and after tiffin, till 5 o’clock when Genl. and myself started for Mr Herron to dine. We went in a carriage as it has rained all day. On our arrival we found Mr Kuroda and the Secretary of War were of the party. The General, who had not before visited Mr Herron, was in raptures over his place, as you will be when you go there. And as for me, I am in love both with Herron and his place. Just before we sat down to dinner Wasson came, having just returned from Yokohama and brought with him Lt. Hoag (one of the West Pointers who came out with us) so we had a very pleasant party. We sat at table smoking, wining, talking and generally enjoying ourselves till the carriage came at 9 o’clock and we were surprised to find how late it was. I think I shall manage to get to Yokohama tomorrow evening or the next morning.
Mrs Dove (Page 121) did not buy the dresses as the rain made it so dark in the shops that she could not select them, but she will do so tomorrow.

Oct. 31st. Evening
A big day this morning - our contracts were formally signed and sealed, and immediately after tiffin we all went to visit the Mikado’s grounds and give our ideas as to possible improvements. We wandered through them extensively, being accompanied by several officers of high rank, among them the first lord of the palace - one of the highest officers in Japan. With this gentleman I soon cronied and coming to a sunken road which the rain had filled with water, and to save a long walk, jumped across, and as it was about ten feet wide just did it and that was all. Kuroda, the gentleman in question, and Wasson, who were with me, began to make preparations to jump too. The first lord of the palace jumped first, landed all right, but with tremendous force, and having on smooth soled slippers his legs flew from under him and he lit on his back, ploughing the ground in a furrow for about 6 feet. While his rich silk costume was bedirtied from head to foot. He scrambled (Page 122) to his feet laughing heartily, while Kuroda and I nearly rolled on the ground with merriment. I was so tickled with the incongruity of the whole affair that I came near killing myself with laughter. Fancy such an absurd jumping match with the Duke of Devonshire in the grounds of Windsor Castle, for that is pretty near a parallel case. By the time that the dirty clothes of his lordship were cleansed, the General with the rest and the rest of the party came up, and we adjourned to wine and fruit in the same little building where we partook of similar refreshment the day we were presented. We sat chatting all evening and then returned home at a pretty rapid gait, for the General felt the exquisite champagne we had had, and put the head of the column in a pretty fast gait. We are the first foreigners ever admitted to the Mikado’s grounds save as an official representation from some other nation, and we have now an invitiation to go when we choose.
I go to Yokohama tomorrow and shall close my journal now, for the mail.

End of this section

Part 19

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