Travel Letters: Nikko, Japan (1889)

MY DEAR MARY, — You remember the Japanese have a proverb which declares that he who has not seen Nikko has no right to say Kekko.” Kekko means beautiful. You may have seen Keswick, Heidelberg, Venice, Boston, North Andover, and Hingham, but if you have not seen Nikko, the Jap does not believe you know what beauty is. I do not think he is quite right, but Nikko is certainly very beautiful.

We came up here from Tokyo on Friday, with three hours of railroad, to Utsunomiya, and then six hours of jolting over the worst of roads, all washed with recent rains, with long stops to rest the wretched horses at queer tea houses by the way. A most beautiful avenue of stately trees extends along the whole route, and we came into the sacred valley far up among the hills. Here are the most splendid temples in Japan. They are the great shrines of the heroes of the proud days of Japanese history. Their solemn bells are always sounding, and the richness of their decoration, the mystery of their vast courtyards, and the strange figures of their priests are most impressive. In Tokyo there is much of new Japan. We saw the university, the missionary operations, and the electric lights. Here it is all mediaeval, and the works of man are as venerable as the hills. It is intensely interesting.

The jinrikisha men finally rebelled at Utsunomiya, and would not bring us over the washed and gullied road. One could not blame them, but it was inconvenient, for we had to take the roughest of carriages, and the horses would not have been allowed to be harnessed by any society for the prevention of cruelty to beasts.

Our traveling for these ten days in Japan has been a beautiful frolic. We have a capital guide and servant, a merry little fellow named Hakodate, who talks queer English, does everything that one mortal man can do for two others under his charge, and makes us very comfortable. He is the best guide, I suppose, in the country, has traveled with all sorts of distinguished people, and is perpetually proud of the size of the party at present in his care. If you come across a little French book called ” Notes d’un Globe-Trotter,” by a Mr. Daudiffret, you will find much about Hakodate under the name of Tatzu. Tatzu is his real name, but for some unknown reason he goes under the name of the town in the north of Japan from which he comes. That same French book is a very amusing account of much of what we are seeing every day in this delightful land.

This Sunday morning is Sunday evening with you. I am just going to preach at a service in one of the houses here. You are sitting on the piazza. I wish I could spend the evening with you, and yet these hills are lovely, and so far the climate has been perfect. There has been no excessive heat. Now and then a bit of an earthquake, they say, but they are so little that there is no excitement.

It seems as if there were all pleasant things, until we meet in mid-September. Till then may we all be safe and well. My love to all.

Affectionately, P.

NIKKO, JAPAN, July 22, 1889.

DEAR JOHNNIE, — I wonder if it rains this morning at Marion as it rains at Nikko. The bells of the Buddhist temples sound through the thick mist, and the mountains hide themselves under the clouds, and we can see nothing of what everybody says is the most beautiful place in Japan. Before it clears I will talkee-talkee a little with you. After I left you, Hattie, Dodo, and baby at Springfield, I reached New York safely, and the next morning the great trip really began. We went on, and on, and at last, on the morning of the 8th of July, set foot on the land of the Rising Sun at Yokohama. The little Japs were very glad to see us. They brought their little jinrikishas down to the wharf, and pulled us through their little streets, past their little houses, to the big hotel. Ever since that they have been as good, civil, and delightful as possible. They are the merriest folk alive. Everybody smiles all the time. They smile when you speak to them and when you do not, when you stop and when you pass by, when they understand you and when they do not. They meet you with a smile at the steps of their little toy tea houses, and though they expect you to take off your shoes and enter in your stocking feet, that you may not hurt their pretty mats, and you have to sit upon the floor in most uncomfortable attitudes, still they are so glad to see you, and hand you the chop-sticks, with which you are to eat your rice, in such a winning way, that you would not offend one of their inconvenient little prejudices for all the world.

The missionaries are good people and are doing excellent work. We spent one Sunday in Tokyo, and saw Bishop Williams and the mission buildings and one of the girls’ schools. Most of the schools are in vacation for the summer, and many of the missionaries are here in this mountain place of cool resort. We held service yesterday in the house of one of them, which belongs to a Buddhist priest, and has the temple itself in the side yard. The priest looked at us as we went to church, but did not come into our meeting. If he had, he might have heard me preach in the morning and McVickar in the afternoon. Here, also, is your classmate Sturgis Bigelow, who with Mr. Fenollosa of ’74, and Mrs. Fenollosa, has been living in Japan for years. They know the whole thing thoroughly, and since I began this beautiful letter (about the middle of the third page) we went with them and spent three hours in the Shinto temple of the great Iyeasu which is the most beautiful thing you ever saw. We are going to dine with them tonight.

About the time you get this, the 21st of August, we shall sail from Yokohama for San Francisco in the City of Rio de Janeiro, and about the middle of September I shall be in North Andover. Come and see me there, and tell me about your summer, and I will tell you all about mine, which is as jolly and queer as anything.

My love to the babies and Hattie.

Ever affectionately, P.