Windows into Japan 6. All this month we have been looking at some quotes from travel writers who visited Japan during the latter half of the 19th Century, after isolationism came to an end. The following quote is from Jottings of Travel in China and Japan, by Simon Adler Stern, written in 1887 and published the following year:
Directly across the Canal, on the lowland to the right of the Bluff, is the village of Homura, a sort of suburb of Yokohama. It is thickly settled, the streets are narrow, the houses closely huddled together, and, while there are shops and artificers of various kinds, the chief product, at first blush, appears to consist of Japanese babies. There are so many of them that it is sometimes difficult to get out of their way. B. amuses himself by giving them small copper coins and is soon the centre of an admiring crowd. There are babies of all sizes, the large ones carrying the smaller, toddlers of six or seven years with their infant brothers or sisters strapped to their backs — a settlement of live Japanese dolls, as it were.
I must not forget to mention Fujita, or the House of the Hundred Steps. The most direct way of getting there is to use the steep stone stairs, of just one hundred steps, that lead from the end of one of the streets of Homura up to the top of the Bluff. There is an easier but longer approach from the other side.
It is visited for the sake of the fine sunsets, for the extended view of Yokohama and the Bay, and, when the skies are clear, of distant Fujiama. The place belongs to the Tanabe family, and is in charge of the two clever Misses Tanabe who, with their brother, Tanabe Gengoro, are interested in a successful silk shop in Homura. The Hundred Steps House is much affected by most foreigners who visit Yokohama. If you choose, you can have a cup of tea, a glass of wine, or other simple refreshment. You are politely served by the female attendants, one of whom, for some inscrutable reason, has been nicknamed “Jimmy.” As the Tanabes and Jimmy are bright, clever women, with pleasant manners, who are able to converse in English, French, German or Russian, it is easy to understand how their establishment has come to be a favorite lounging place. After a visitor has enjoyed the views again and again, he will still find it worth his while to climb the hundred steps for the sake of lounging away an hour or two at Fujita. A seat overlooking the hillside; a companion ready for a chat when you are in the mood, but not conversational enough to force you to talk against your will; and that other good comrade, a cigar: with these elements you will find it pleasant enough to end up the day there, doing a little quiet lotus-eating on your own account, and interrupted only by Jimmy’s ”Donzhu want some more tea?” or the antics of mischievous Cheesi (a diminutive relative of the Tanabes), whose great delight it is to tease the visitors.
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