Page images
PDF
EPUB

EAST BY WEST.

CHAPTER I.

DINING AND CREMATING.

We lunched with Mr. Inouyé, the Foreign Minister, at his pretty country house on the outskirts of Tokio. Mr. Ito was present, together with several English gentlemen who have been closely associated with the Government of Japan in furthering its desire of drawing nearer to Western civilization. The Foreign Office, where Mr. Inouyé officially resides, is furnished throughout in European style. At his country house the Foreign Minister preserves the two styles, there being a suite of reception and dining rooms furnished in European style, and one wing of the house in Japanese manner. There is no doubt which

VOL. II.

20

is the prettier. Nothing could be daintier or in better taste than the Japanese house. The colouring is exquisite; the various woods, simply polished and showing the grain, are a pleasure to look upon. The house stands high, with trees and fields facing it, and in summer weather must be the perfection of a summer residence.

What can be done in the way of grafting European notions of furniture upon the Japanese style of house architecture, is seen in a pretty little bungalow which Mr. Greville, of the British Embassy, has built for himself at Tokio. He took what was originally a Japanese house, made a few alterations while strictly preserving its style, and then began to furnish and adorn it with prizes drawn in the curio lottery. Mr. Trench pathetically complains that when paying a visit he is always afraid to move about, being prone either to knock his head against the ceiling, or to knock over something on tables or floor. But the chargé d'affaires is a very tall man, and even he is not so dangerous as he represents himself.

It is very difficult now to obtain really old lacquer or old things of any kind in Japan. Madame Inouyé is happy in many priceless possessions.

She has not only knowledge and special opportunities of exercising it, but

has been quietly at work for some years. Every foreigner who goes to Japan is on the look-out for old lacquer and curios which antedate the European demand for them. Whatever of the real thing comes up is eagerly snatched at. But Japanese modern art is equal to the emergency, and makes many things that are beautiful if not old. I met in a remote country district an enterprising Semitic from London who had spent two months in Japan and had bought up enough odds and ends to freight a brig. He would buy old lamps if he could get them. If not, new ones would do; but he must have them as like the old ones as possible, and would then take them by the dozen and the score. This is a clearing-out process from a strictly trading point of view, which I believe is not uncommon, and which must at no distant date empty Japan of whatever makes her dear to the curiosity hunter.

One other little difficulty the foreigner meets with in Japan surrounds the question of money. Japanese currency is chiefly in paper money, in convenient denominations down to ten yen, which should be of the value of fivepence. But for a long period terminating with last year, the paper currency was grievously depreciated. What was nominally worth four

shillings, could with difficulty be exchanged for three, and it reached levels lower than that. The Government, and above all their new policy, was upon trial. They might break down any day, and who could say that their successors would, even if they could, meet the promise to pay which the notes bore ? Gradually confidence in the Government and in the future of Japan has grown, and with it paper money has very nearly touched par. At the present moment a paper yen is worth only fivepence less than the silver dollar, which is a recuperation as remarkable and even more rapid than that of greenbacks or Italian notes.

This sure sign of the growing prosperity and stability of the new empire is not viewed with very great approval by all who live within its borders. It is said, and with unquestionable truth, that it has sent up the prices of everything and made living appreciably dearer. Once a yen always a yen, is a golden rule among the shopkeepers and tradespeople of Japan. What they charged a yen for when the note was worth only three shillings, they still charge a yen for now the little bit of paper is worth three and sevenpence, and seems bent on reaching par.

That, however, is not the grievance of the foreign visitor. He would certainly bear to

« PreviousContinue »