Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 3/Japanese fragments - Part 1

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Page:ONCE A WEEK JUL TO DEC 1860.pdf/41 Rome. By dint of perseverance we extract his ore and leave his dross, and then clutch sweet Purchas, who startles us by stating, on authority which may not be denied, that in Japan, "where our countryman Williams Adams doth now reside, and hath been there these many years, therefore hath better means to know than any one," there are two mountains, one of which casteth out flames, and where the Devil might be seen in a bright cloud by such as prepared themselves for the sight by due preparation of mind and body! For a moment we trembled. Could this be our beautiful Fusi-hama, the "matchless one of Ni-pon?" Was she like other peerless ones, merely a snare and a delusion, handing her votaries over to the Evil One in a bright and dazzling cloud? Gracios a Dios! No; further on we recognised her, for the ancient writer mentioned another mountain, our Fusi-hama, as being "many leagues higher than the clouds." Bother that burning mountain and its unpleasant occupant: we felt so relieved, and turning to our "Hundred Phases of the Matchless Mountain," published in Yedo, we rejoiced like the travellers who, in the early morn, halt on the highway, and gaze upon her grand proportions in wonderment and love as she towers above that great empire, and daily blesses the millions at her feet.

First View of Fusi-Hama.png

But let us begin our tale of Japan, and try to carry our reader back to the old, old time, a.d. 1300, when Venice and Genoa were as great as we yet hope they will, one day, again become. It was, then, five centuries and a half ago, that Zipangu, the Chinese barbarism for Nipon, was first heard of in Europe, and that through the narration of the brothers Polo. They had just returned from their wanderings and sojournings in Tartary and China, and men hardly knew what to believe of the marvels they related.

That first news of Nipon was brief, yet admirably calculated to awaken the curiosity and cupidity of races who had for ever been accustomed to look to the remotest East, as a land of wondrous wealth, where gold, precious stones, and almost as precious spices, were as dross. Lands which, if the mail-clad warlike sons of Western Europe could only reach, their strong arms and stout hearts would enable each impoverished knight and desperate soldier to carve out a kingdom for himself. Marco Polo had not visited Japan, but he had dwelt long in China; he was the first and last European who ever held office under the Chinese Government, and it was from the Chinese that he had learnt of the great islands to the eastward. "Zipangu!" for so he calls Nipon, "is an island in the Eastern sea, very great in size; the people of a white complexion, of gentle behaviour,—in religion idolators,—and they have a king of their own. They have gold in great plenty; their king permits no exportation of it, and they who have been to that country—and they are few—report the king's house to be covered with gold (as churches are here with lead), gilded windows, and that they also have many jewels!"

We can imagine the excitement in the stately palaces, and on the marble quays of Venice, when her merchants read this tale, the truth of much of which was subsequently proved; and how they longed that their "talle shippes," "those proud argosies," which had explored the inhospitable coasts of Northern Europe, and penetrated to the further shores of the Cimmerian Bosphorus, should likewise attain and secure for the Queen of the Adriatic the promised wealth of that wondrous Zipangu.

They had not, however, been the first to break the Tenth Commandment—to covet that which Providence had given unto others—and Marco Polo relates how his great patron, the con queror of China, Kublai Khan, had been stimu lated to bring the Britain of the Pacific under his paternal sway. Small measure of grace, small persuasion would have fallen to the fair-skinned dwellers in Nipon or Zipangu, could Kublai have reached them with his Tartar hordes. Dieu merci! horses may not swim the deep sea, and a small breadth of blue water stayed the charge of the Tartar cut-throat of the olden day, as we trust it may do the pas accelerè of the more modern Zouaves or Turcos into our own good land. Kublai Khan proceeded therefore to expound certain phi losophical principles to the Wang or King of Nipon, in a communication which would vie, in some respects, with similar documents that we have seen of late years appear from other great potentates who dwell nearer to the meridian of Greenwich. We give it verbatim as a charming exemplification of the ancient fable of the wolf and the lamb. Yedo, the present capital; for it is said that, although he only lived 150 years, his death took place upon Mount Fusi-hama, the Matchless-mountain of Japan. That lofty and beautiful peak is the Sinai of the Japanese islander—for Sin-fuh, with great wisdom, and still better taste, did not trust to the grateful memory of his countrymen for a monument to his fame, or to perishable statues of marble and brass, but identified his life and death with the handiwork of the great Creator. If the Japanese records tell truly, their wonderful cone of Fusi-hama was projected upward by volcanic action during the lifetime of Sin-fuh, and the thunders of the Deity might have been possibly invoked by the Japanese legislator, to confirm his authority, as was done in the olden time by the great Israelite at Sinai. Sin-fooism, the ancient faith of the Japanese islander, has its stronghold in that mountain, and in the type of strength, purity, and grandeur which it represents. On its crest is the supposed resting-place of the founder of that faith, and thither have wended the devout of all times in earnest pilgrimage.

Pilgrims to Fusi-Hama.png

Everything in Japan reminds the visitor of this prevailing faith. The love of the people for Fusi-hama in all her phases, and the thousand scenes incident to the yearly pilgrimage to its summit, are the favourite topic of her literati, and the constant subject of her artists' pencils. Amongst other graphic illustrations of the toil and danger undergone by Japanese devotees, we give a fac-simile of one, which brings vividly before us the "antres vast and deserts idle" through which they have to wend their way; and we can sympathise with the Alpine Club as they view our fac-simile, and regret that no artist has been found in Europe who could as truthfully pourtray their deeds of daring at the shrine of their mountain goddess. There is, however, one hope left for them. A talented Japanese artist is in the suite of this foreign embassy: we should recommend them to engage him to illustrate their next work.

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