CHAPTER XIX. YOKOHAMA.
Heavily plunged the breaking wave,
And foam flew up the lea,
Morning and evening the drifted snow
Fell into the dark grey sea.
Tuesday, January 30th. - When we awoke from our slumbers this morning, it was very cold and dark, and we heard noises of a strange kind. On going on deck to ascertain the cause of this state of things, we discovered that the sky-lights and portholes were all covered and blocked up with snow, and that the water froze as it came out of the hose, forming a sheet of ice on the deck. Masses of snow and ice were falling from the rigging, and everything betokened that our welcome to Japan would not be a warm one.
After breakfast we had many visitors, and received letters from Sir Harry and Lady Parkes, inviting us to go up to Yeddo to-morrow for a long day, to settle our future plans.
Having landed, we went with the Consul to the native town, to see the curio shops, which are a speciality of the place. The inhabitants are wonderfully clever at making all sorts of curiosities, and the manufactories of so-called 'antique bronzes' and 'old china' are two of the most wonderful sights in Yokohama. The way in which they scrape, crack, chip, mend, and colour the various articles, cover them with dust, partially clean them, and imitate the marks and signatures of celebrated makers, is more creditable to their ingenuity than to their honesty. Still, there are a good many genuine old relics from the temples, and from the large houses of the reduced Daimios, to be picked up, if you go the right way to work, though the supply is limited. Dealers are plentiful, and travellers, especially from America, are increasing in numbers. When we first made acquaintance with the shops we thought they seemed full of beautiful things, but even one day's shopping, in the company of experienced people, has educated our taste and taught us a great deal; though we have still much to learn. There are very respectable-looking lacquer cabinets ranging in price from 5_s. to 20_l. But they are only made for the foreign market. No such things exist in a Japanese home. A really good bit of old lacquer (the best is generally made into the form of a small box, a portable medicine-chest, or a chow-chow box) is worth from 20_l. to 200_l. We saw one box, about three inches square, which was valued at 45_l.; and a collection of really good lacquer would be costly and difficult to procure even here. The best specimens I have ever seen are at Lady Alcock's; but they are all either royal or princely presents, not to be bought with money. The tests of good lacquer are its exquisite finish, its satiny, oily feel, and the impossibility of making any impression on it with your thumb-nail. It is practically indestructible, and will wear for ever. All the poor as well as the rich people here use it, and have used it for centuries, instead of china and glass, for cups, saucers, dishes, bowls, which would need to be often washed in the hottest of water. It is said that the modern Japanese have lost the art of lacquer making; and as an illustration I was told that many beautiful articles of lacquer, old and new, had been sent from this country to the Vienna Exhibition in 1873, but the price put on them was so exorbitant that few were sold, and nearly all had to be sent back to Japan. Just as the ship with these things on board reached the Gulf of Yeddo, she struck on a rock and sank in shallow water. A month or two ago a successful attempt was made to raise her, and to recover the cargo, when it was found that the new lacquer had been reduced to a state of pulp, while the old was not in the least damaged. I tell you the tale as it was told to me.
After a long day's shopping, we went to dine, in real Japanese fashion, at a Japanese tea-house. The establishment was kept by a very pleasant woman, who received us at the door, and who herself removed our exceedingly dirty boots before allowing us to step on to her clean mats. This was all very well, as far as it went; but she might as well have supplied us with some substitute for the objectionable articles, for it was a bitterly cold night, and the highly polished wood passages and steep staircase felt very cold to our shoeless feet. The apartment we were shown into was so exact a type of a room in any Japanese house, that I may as well describe it once for all. The woodwork of the roof and the framework of the screens were all made of a handsome dark polished wood, not unlike walnut. The exterior walls under the verandah, as well as the partitions between the other rooms, were simply wooden lattice-work screens, covered with white paper, and sliding in grooves; so that you could walk in or out at any part of the wall you chose, and it was, in like manner, impossible to say whence the next comer would make his appearance. Doors and windows are, by this arrangement, rendered unnecessary, and do not exist. You open a little bit of your wall if you want to look out, and a bigger bit if you want to step out. The floor was covered with several thicknesses of very fine mats, each about six feet long by three broad, deliciously soft to walk upon. All mats in Japan are of the same size, and everything connected with house-building is measured by this standard. Once you have prepared your foundations and woodwork of the dimensions of so many mats, it is the easiest thing in the world to go to a shop and buy a house, ready made, which you can then set up and furnish in the scanty Japanese fashion in a couple of days.