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Ladies of the Western Capital

To tell all that was done and seen by our young friends during their stay in Kyoto would be to tell a great deal. They had their time fully occupied from their arrival to their departure, and they regretted much the necessity of leaving when they did. At the Doctor's suggestion, they attempted a new system of relating their adventures to their friends at home, and were so well pleased at the result that they determined to try it again. The new scheme was the preparation of a letter in which both had equal shares, Frank undertaking to write one half of it and Fred the other. They succeeded so well that when they read over their production to Doctor Bronson before sending it away, he was unable to say which was Fred's portion and which was Frank's. We will reproduce the letter and leave our readers to judge how well they performed their self-imposed duty. At the Doctor's suggestion, each of the boys wrote as though speaking for himself, and consequently the letter had a good deal of "I" in it.

"My Dear Friends:

"We have seen so many things since we came here that I don't exactly know where to begin in telling the story of our sightseeing. The names by which this city is known are so numerous that the reader of Japanese history of different dates is liable to be puzzled. Many of the natives speak of it as Miako, or the Capital. Others have called it, and still call it, Saikio, or the Central City, and others know it only as Kyoto, or the Western Capital. This last name has become the official one since the removal of the Mikado to Yeddo, which then became Tokyo, or the Eastern Capital. But, by whatever name we know it, the city is a most delightful one, and the traveler who comes to Japan without seeing it is like one who goes to New York without visiting Central Park, or a stranger in Boston who does not see the famous Common. In many of its features Kyoto is superior to Tokyo, and any one of its inhabitants will tell you so. The city stands on a plain of nearly horseshoe shape, the mountains almost encircling it and giving an abundance of charming views. On one side the houses climb a considerable distance up the slopes, so that you may sit on a balcony and see Kyoto lying at your feet.

"The streets are almost of chess-board regularity, and generally so clean that you might go out to walk in satin slippers without much danger of soiling them. The people are finer-looking than those of Tokyo, and you meet more stalwart men than in the eastern capital. Kyoto prides itself on the beauty of its women, and some of the Japanese writers say that they cause the women of all other parts of the country to despair. They are very proud of their headdresses, and they have a great many ornaments for the hair. In fact, there are so many of these things, and the trade is so extensive, that you find whole shops devoted to their manufacture and sale.
Restaurant and Tea Garden at Kyoto

"Dancing and singing girls are to be counted by the thousand, and they certainly have the most gorgeous toilets I have seen in the country. They are engaged to sing and dance at dinner parties, just as we have bands of music to play for us at large banquets in America, and no Japanese gentleman who was giving a dinner to a friend or friends would think he had done the proper thing unless there were 'geishas' to sing and dance for them. The other evening Doctor Bronson ordered a dinner for us at a Japanese restaurant in the true style of the country. He told the manager to get it up properly, and the answer was that it should be perfect. When we went there, we found the dinner ready, and there were two singing geishas, and two dancing ones, to entertain us. I can't say that I considered it much of an entertainment after the novelty had gone, as the music was monotonous, and we couldn't understand a word of the singing. Their dancing consisted of sliding about the room, and taking a variety of postures with their arms and hands, and it wasn't a bit like what we call dancing. But it was all perfectly proper and nice, and the girls behaved like real ladies. They are educated for dancers or singers, as the case may be, and some of them are great favorites and get high wages. But if I were to have my way, and have them dress to my taste, I should make them put less paint on their faces. They consider that the one who can put the most paint on her face and neck is the prettiest, and so they cover themselves until they look as though they were veneered. One of those that danced for us had her face covered so thickly that she couldn't smile without cracking the varnish, and so she didn't smile at all.
Lantern-Maker at Kyoto

"We are outside of treaty limits, and so we were obliged to have passports to come here. Foreigners may go freely within twenty-five miles of any of the treaty ports without special permission, but Kyoto is just beyond the limit, as it is thirty miles from Osaka, and therefore the Japanese permit is needed. We had ours from the consul at Kobe, and had no trouble at all on coming here. A Japanese official called for them soon after we came to the hotel, and he bowed low as he received them. Then he spread the documents on the floor, and as he did so he fell on his hands and knees so as to bring his nose within six inches of the papers, and curve his back into the shape of an arch. He read the passports and copied our names into his notebook, or, at least, I suppose he did so, though I can't say positively. We can stay the time named in the permit without further interference, but if we stopped too long, we should probably be told some morning that a gentleman at Kobe was anxious to see us, and we had better start for there by the first train. The Japanese are so polite that they will never say a rude thing if they can help it, and they will even tell a plump falsehood rather than be uncivil, similar to what has occurred in America.

"Kyoto is famous in the rest of the world for its manufactures of porcelain of various kinds, and also for its bronzes and silk goods. There is a large trade in Kyoto ware, and everybody says that it is increasing. At any rate, the prices they ask here are as high as in Yokohama for the same kind of articles, and some things are really dearer here than there. Some of the work in bronze is very fine, and I can tell you a funny story about the way the merchants prepare goods for the market. The incident happened yesterday, when we were in a shop with a gentleman from Kobe whom we had met at the hotel.

"This gentleman was admiring a pair of very old vases. There was no doubt about their age, as they were eaten in several places with verdigris, and were covered in spots with dried earth. When he asked the price, he was astonished at the low figure demanded, and immediately said he would take them. Then he asked the shopkeeper if he had any more like them.
A Japanese Archer

"'I haven't any,' the dealer replied, 'but I can make anything you want to order.'

"The gentleman said he didn't want new vases, but old ones, and thereupon the dealer said,

"'I'll make old vases for you if you want them, will make them just as I made these.'

"We learned how it is that they get up this old ware. At least, we were told so by a man who claims to know. 'Boil the bronzes in strong vinegar,' he says, 'for several hours, and if you want to make them look very old, you must put some acid in the vinegar. You want the strongest vinegar that can be found, and the bronze must be cleaned of all grease before it is boiled.

"'You can buy plenty of old ware of all kinds,' the same man said, 'but you had better have it made, and then you know you are not cheated.' Very sensible advice, I think, don't you?

"They have a great deal of embroidered and figured silk, and when you go into a shop, these are the first things they show you. Some of the work is magnificent, and when you look at it and learn the price, it does not take you long to conclude that the labor of Kyoto is not very highly paid. There are many silk-weavers here, and we have visited some of the factories. The largest that we saw contained twenty looms, about half of them devoted to brocades and other figured work, and the rest to plain silks. The looms for ordinary work are quite plain and simple. Those for the figured silks are somewhat complicated, and require two persons to operate them. One sits in the usual position in front of the loom, and the other up aloft. Each of them has a pattern of the work, and there is a bewildering lot of threads which must be pulled at the right time. The process is very slow, and if these weavers could see a Jacquard loom, I think they would be astonished.
Temple Bell at Kyoto

"Kyoto is a place of great interest, as has been said already, and we have not been able to exhaust its sights, though we have worked very diligently. It is the most famous city in all Japan for its temples, as it contains altogether about three thousand of them. They are of all sizes and kinds, but the most of them are small and not worth the trouble of visiting. But, on the other hand, there are some magnificent ones, and a charming feature of the temples is the way they are situated. They are nearly all on hillsides, and in the midst of groves and gardens where you may wander for hours in the shade, and whenever you feel weary you can be sure of finding a teahouse close by, where you may rest and refresh yourself on the fragrant tea of Japan. Children romp and play on the verandas of the temples without thought of harm, and run as they please through the edifices. Outside are the tea gardens, and the people chatter and laugh as they move to and from the temple, without any of the solemnity of a congregation entering or leaving a church in America. At the hour of worship, the crowd kneels reverently, and pronounces in unison the prayers that are repeated by the priest, and when the prayers are ended, they return to their sport or their work as cheerfully as ever.

"I must not fail to tell you of a remarkable temple that we have seen. Not that any are unworthy of mention, but this one is certainly very curious. It is known as the Temple of Rengenhoin, and contains one thousand idols of large size. Then each idol in this lot is surrounded by several smaller ones, and there is one idol larger than all the rest. The whole number is said to be 33,333. We did not count them to make sure that the estimate was correct, but I should think that there must be thirty thousand at least, so that a few odd thousands, more or less, would make no difference. The whole of the inside of the temple is full of them, and each figure is said to have a particular fable connected with it. The temple is nearly four hundred feet long, and is certainly a very fine building, and there is an artificial pond in front of it, which is covered with aquatic flowers in the season for them. There is a veranda that was used in olden times for a shooting-gallery for archery purposes. It is more than two hundred feet long, and there are records of some famous matches that have been shot there. The best on the books took place more than six hundred years ago, when one man is said to have hit the bull's-eye of the target 8,000 times out of 10,000, and another is reported to have done the same thing 8,133 times in 13,053. That was certainly good shooting, and I don't believe that it would be easy to find a bowman today who could equal it.
Japanese Temple and Cemetery

"We have seen one of the famous bells of Japan, or rather of Kyoto, for it is this city that has always been celebrated for its bells. The greatest of them lies on the ground just outside of one of the temples, and it is not a piece of property that a man could put in his pocket and walk off with. It is fourteen feet high, twenty-four feet in circumference, and ten inches thick. How much it weighs nobody knows, as the Japanese never made a pair of scales large enough to weigh it with. The Japanese bells have generally a very sweet tone, and to hear them booming out on the evening air is not by any means disagreeable. The art of casting them was carried to a state of great perfection, and stood higher, two or three centuries ago than it does at present.

"If I should name half the temples and public places we have seen I should make you wish, perhaps, that I had not written at all, as the list alone would be tedious, and I could no more give you an idea of the peculiar beauty and attractions of each than I could describe the perfume of each flower in a bouquet from the hands of the florist. One temple had a large cemetery attached to it, and we walked around looking at the inscriptions in a language which we could not read, and studying symbols we could not understand. The temple stands in a grove, as do nearly all the temples of Kyoto, and the place reminded us very much of some of our burial places at home.

"Then we have had glimpses of the way the people spin cotton, and perform other work in the manufacturing line. Their apparatus is very simple, and it is rather surprising than otherwise that they can accomplish so much with so little machinery. Then we have walked about the streets, and several times we have had close escapes from being run over by some of the carts that were carrying heavy loads. With two men to push them, and two pulling at the same time, they will move loads that would be no small matter for a pair of horses. They keep up a great shouting, and at first it puzzles you to know why they do it until you remember that it is desirable they should all pull together. You can hear them a long way off, and if you get in their way it is your own fault, as it was ours.
Picnic Booth Overlooking Lake Biwa

"Well, if we kept on telling you all we have seen in Kyoto we should be a long time at it, and so we may as well stop short. Besides, we are going to Lake Biwa, and it is time to be off. If you enjoy this letter half as much as we have enjoyed the material for making it you will have a very pleasant time over it."

The party went to Lake Biwa as they had proposed, and certainly no one should omit it from his excursions in the vicinity of Kyoto. The distance is only seven miles, and an excellent road leads there from the city. Along the route they met a dense crowd of people coming and going, for there is a vast amount of business between the city and the lake. There were men on foot and in jinrikshas, there were porters with loads and porters without loads, there were packhorses in great number, and there were wagons with merchandise bound for the interior or for the seaboard. Some of the packhorses had burdens the reverse of savory, and the boys learned on inquiry that they were transporting liquid manure to the farms near the borders of the lake. Along the roadside they saw little family groups that were always more or less picturesque. Fathers were caring for their children, and seemed to take great delight in playing the part of nurse. It is very common in all the Japanese cities to see men thus occupied, and they never appear to be weary of their tasks. In summer both parent and child will be thinly clad, while in winter they will be wrapped against the cold. The summer garments are not always so thick as the rules of polite society require, and even the winter costume is not very heavy.

Lake Biwa is a beautiful sheet of water, surrounded by picturesque mountains and smiling valleys. Steamers ply upon it, so that an excursion may be made on its waters with the utmost ease, and all around it there are picnic booths where parties may sit and enjoy the view. The time of our friends was limited, and so they had only a glimpse of the lake from one of those pleasure resorts, if a couple of hours spent there may be called a glimpse.

They returned to Kyoto, and proceeded without delay to Kobe. They found the railway journey much more rapid than the one by jinriksha, but it had the demerit of carrying them so fast that very little could be seen of the country. The day after their arrival at Kobe the steamer was ready to take them to Nagasaki and Shanghai, and at the appointed hour they went on board. Practically, they had finished their sightseeing in Japan, as they were not to break the journey until setting foot on Chinese soil. They left it with the most agreeable recollections, and the boys, as they stood on the deck of the steamer slowly moving out of the harbor of Kobe, simultaneously asked the question,

"Wonder if we shall ever see it again?"


Study the chapter for one week.

Over the week:

  • Read and/or listen to the chapter.
  • Review the vocabulary terms.
  • Complete the enrichment activities.


Headdress: A decorative covering or ornament worn on the head.
Geisha: A Japanese female entertainer skilled in various arts such as tea ceremony, dancing, singing and calligraphy.
Lantern: A case of translucent or transparent material made to protect a flame, or light, used to illuminate its surroundings.
Vase: An upright open container used mainly for displaying fresh, dried, or artificial flowers.
Dealer: One who deals in goods, especially automobiles or art.
Idol: A graven image or representation of anything that is revered, or believed to convey spiritual power.
Veranda: A gallery, platform, or balcony, usually roofed and often partly enclosed, extending along the outside of a building.
Temple Bell: Bells located at temples and used in religious ceremonies.


Activity 1: Narrate the Chapter

  • Narrate the events aloud in your own words.

Activity 2: Study the Chapter Pictures

  • Study the chapter pictures and describe how each relates to the story.

Activity 3: Observe the Modern Equivalent

  • Examine the chapter setting in modern times: The city of Kyoto, Japan.

Activity 4: Map the Chapter

  • Find the country of Japan on the map of the world.
  • Trace the boys' path from Kyoto to Kobe on the map of Japan.

Activity 5: Map the Chapter on a Globe

  • Repeat the mapwork from Activity 4 on a three-dimensional globe.