We left the United States from Seattle for Shanghai, China, sailing by the northern route, at one P. M. February second, reaching Yokohama February 19th and Shanghai, March 1st. It was our aim throughout the journey to keep in close contact with the field and crop problems and to converse personally, through interpreters or otherwise, with the farmers, gardeners and fruit growers themselves; and we have taken pains in many cases to visit the same fields or the same region two, three or more times at different intervals during the season in order to observe different phases of the same cultural or fertilization methods as these changed or varied with the season.

Our first near view of Japan came in the early morning of February 19th when passing some three miles off the point where the Pacific passenger steamer Dakota was beached and wrecked in broad daylight without loss of life two years ago. The high rounded hills were clothed neither in the dense dark forest green of Washington and Vancouver, left sixteen days before, nor yet in the brilliant emerald such as Ireland's hills in June fling in unparalleled greeting to passengers surfeited with the dull grey of the rolling ocean. This lack of strong forest growth and even of shrubs and heavy herbage on hills covered with deep soil, neither cultivated nor suffering from serious erosion, yet surrounded by favorable climatic conditions, was our first great surprise.

To the southward around the point, after turning northward into the deep bay, similar conditions prevailed, and at ten o'clock we stood off Uraga where Commodore Perry anchored on July 8th, 1853, bearing to the Shogun President Fillmore's letter which opened the doors of Japan to the commerce of the world and, it is to be hoped brought to her people, with their habits of frugality and industry so indelibly fixed by centuries of inheritance, better opportunities for development along those higher lines destined to make life still more worth living.

As the Tosa Maru drew alongside the pier at Yokohama it was raining hard and this had attired an army after the manner of Robinson Crusoe, dressed as seen in Fig. 1, ready to carry you and yours to the Customs house and beyond for one, two, three or five cents. Strong was the contrast when the journey was reversed and we descended the gang plank at Seattle, where no one sought the opportunity of moving baggage.

Through the kindness of Captain Harrison of the Tosa Maru in calling an interpreter by wireless to meet the steamer, it was possible to utilize the entire interval of stop in Yokohama to the best advantage in the fields and gardens spread over the eighteen miles of plain extending to Tokyo, traversed by both electric tram and railway lines, each running many trains making frequent stops; so that this wonderfully fertile and highly tilled district could be readily and easily reached at almost any point.

We had left home in a memorable storm of snow, sleet and rain which cut out of service telegraph and telephone lines over a large part of the United States; we had sighted the Aleutian Islands, seeing and feeling nothing on the way which could suggest a warm soil and green fields, hence our surprise was great to find the jinricksha men with bare feet and legs naked to the thighs, and greater still when we found, before we were outside the city limits, that the electric tram was running between fields and gardens green with wheat, barley, onions, carrots, cabbage and other vegetables. We were rushing through the Orient with everything outside the car so strange and different from home that the shock came like a bolt of lightning out of a clear sky.

In the car every man except myself and one other was smoking tobacco and that other was inhaling camphor through an ivory mouthpiece resembling a cigar holder closed at the end. Several women, tiring of sitting foreign style, slipped off—I cannot say out of—their shoes and sat facing the windows, with toes crossed behind them on the seat. The streets were muddy from the rain and everybody Japanese was on rainy-day wooden shoes, the soles carried three to four inches above the ground by two cross blocks, in the manner seen in Fig. 2. A mother, with baby on her back and a daughter of sixteen years came into the car. Notwithstanding her high shoes the mother had dipped one toe into the mud. Seated, she slipped her foot off. Without evident instructions the pretty black-eyed, glossy-haired, red-lipped lass, with cheeks made rosy, picked up the shoe, withdrew a piece of white tissue paper from the great pocket in her sleeve, deftly cleaned the otherwise spotless white cloth sock and then the shoe, threw the paper on the floor, looked to see that her fingers were not soiled, then set the shoe at her mother's foot, which found its place without effort or glance.

Everything here was strange and the scenes shifted with the speed of the wildest dream. Now it was driving piles for the foundation of a bridge. A tripod of poles was erected above the pile and from it hung a pulley. Over the pulley passed a rope from the driving weight and from its end at the pulley ten cords extended to the ground. In a circle at the foot of the tripod stood ten agile Japanese women. They were the hoisting engine. They chanted in perfect rhythm, hauled and stepped, dropped the weight and hoisted again, making up for heavier hammer and higher drop by more blows per minute. When we reached Shanghai we saw the pile driver being worked from above. Fourteen Chinese men stood upon a raised staging, each with a separate cord passing direct from the hand to the weight below. A concerted, half-musical chant, modulated to relieve monotony, kept all hands together. What did the operation of this machine cost? Thirteen cents, gold, per man per day, which covered fuel and lubricant, both automatically served. Two additional men managed the piles, two directed the hammer, eighteen manned the outfit. Two dollars and thirty-four cents per day covered fuel, superintendence and repairs. There was almost no capital invested in machinery. Men were plenty and to spare. Rice was the fuel, cooked without salt, boiled stiff, reinforced with a hit of pork or fish, appetized with salted cabbage or turnip and perhaps two or three of forty and more other vegetable relishes. And are these men strong and happy? They certainly were strong. They are steadily increasing their millions, and as one stood and watched them at their work their faces were often wreathed in smiles and wore what seemed a look of satisfaction and contentment.

Among the most common sights on our rides from Yokohama to Tokyo, both within the city and along the roads leading to the fields, starting early in the morning, were the loads of night soil carried on the shoulders of men and on the backs of animals, but most commonly on strong carts drawn by men, bearing six to ten tightly covered wooden containers holding forty, sixty or more pounds each. Strange as it may seem, there are not today and apparently never have been, even in the largest and oldest cities of Japan, China or Korea, anything corresponding to the hydraulic systems of sewage disposal used now by western nations. Provision is made for the removal of storm waters but when I asked my interpreter if it was not the custom of the city during the winter months to discharge its night soil into the sea, as a quicker and cheaper mode of disposal, his reply came quick and sharp, "No, that would be waste. We throw nothing away. It is worth too much money." In such public places as rail way stations provision is made for saving, not for wasting, and even along the country roads screens invite the traveler to stop, primarily for profit to the owner more than for personal convenience.

Between Yokohama and Tokyo along the electric car line and not far distant from the seashore, there were to be seen in February very many long, fence-high screens extending east and west, strongly inclined to the north, and built out of rice straw, closely tied together and supported on bamboo poles carried upon posts of wood set in the ground. These screens, set in parallel series of five to ten or more in number and several hundred feet long, were used for the purpose of drying varieties of delicate seaweed, these being spread out in the manner shown in Fig. 3.

The seaweed is first spread upon separate ten by twelve inch straw mats, forming a thin layer seven by eight inches. These mats are held by means of wooden skewers forced through the body of the screen, exposing the seaweed to the direct sunshine. After becoming dry the rectangles of seaweed are piled in bundles an inch thick, cut once in two, forming packages four by seven inches, which are neatly tied and thus exposed for sale as soup stock and for other purposes. To obtain this seaweed from the ocean small shrubs and the limbs of trees are set up in the bottom of shallow water, as seen in Fig. 4. To these limbs the seaweeds become attached, grow to maturity and are then gathered by hand. By this method of culture large amounts of important food stuff are grown for the support of the people on areas otherwise wholly unproductive.

Another rural feature, best shown by photograph taken in February, is the method of training pear orchards in Japan, with their limbs tied down upon horizontal over-bead trellises at a height under which a man can readily walk erect and easily reach the fruit with the hand while standing upon the ground. Pear orchards thus form arbors of greater or less size, the trees being set in quincunx order about twelve feet apart in and between the rows. Bamboo poles are used overhead and these carried on posts of the same material 1.5 to 2.5 inches in diameter, to which they are tied. Such a pear orchard is shown in Fig. 5.

The limbs of the pear trees are trained strictly in one plane, tying them down and pruning out those not desired. As a result the ground beneath is completely shaded and every pear is within reach, which is a great convenience when it becomes desirable to protect the fruit from insects, by tying paper bags over every pear as seen in Figs. 6 and 7. The orchard ground is kept free from weeds and not infrequently is covered with a layer of rice or other straw, extensively used in Japan as a ground cover with various crops and when so used is carefully laid in handfuls from bundles, the straws being kept parallel as when harvested.

To one from a country of 160-acre farms, with roads four rods wide; of cities with broad streets and residences with green lawns and ample back yards; and where the cemeteries are large and beautiful parks, the first days of travel in these old countries force the over-crowding upon the attention as nothing else can. One feels that the cities are greatly over-crowded with houses and shops, and these with people and wares; that the country is over-crowded with fields and the fields with crops; and that in Japan the over-crowding is greatest of all in the cemeteries, gravestones almost touching and markers for families literally in bundles at a grave, while round about there may be no free country whatever, dwellings, gardens or rice paddies contesting the tiny allotted areas too closely to leave even foot-paths between.

Unless recently modified through foreign influence the streets of villages and cities are narrow, as seen in Fig. 8, where however the street is unusually broad. This is a village in the Hakone district on a beautiful lake of the same name, where stands an Imperial summer palace, seen near the center of the view on a hill across the lake. The roofs of the houses here are typical of the neat, careful thatching with rice straw, very generally adopted in place of tile for the country villages throughout much of Japan. The shops and stores, open full width directly upon the street, are filled to overflowing, as seen in Fig. 9 and in Fig. 22.

In the canalized regions of China the country villages crowd both banks of a canal, as is the case in Fig. 10. Here, too, often is a single street and it very narrow, very crowded and very busy. Stone steps lead from the houses down into the water where clothing, vegetables, rice and what not are conveniently washed. In this particular village two rows of houses stand on one side of the canal separated by a very narrow street, and a single row on the other. Between the bridge where the camera was exposed and one barely discernible in the background, crossing the canal a third of a mile distant, we counted upon one side, walking along the narrow street, eighty houses each with its family, usually of three generations and often of four. Thus in the narrow strip, 154 feet broad, including 16 feet of street and 30 feet of canal, with its three lines of houses. lived no less than 240 families and more than 1200 and probably nearer 2000 people.

When we turn to the crowding of fields in the country nothing except seeing can tell so forcibly the fact as such landscapes as those of Figs. 11, 12 and 13, one in Japan, one in Korea and one in China, not far from Nanking, looking from the hills across the fields to the broad Yangtse kiang, barely discernible as a band of light along the horizon.

The average area of the rice field in Japan is less than five square rods and that of her upland fields only about twenty. In the case of the rice fields the small size is necessitated partly by the requirement of holding water on the sloping sides of the valley, as seen in Fig. 11. These small areas do not represent the amount of land worked by one family, the average for Japan being more nearly 2.5 acres. But the lands worked by one family are seldom contiguous, they may even be widely scattered and very often rented.

The people generally live in villages, going often considerable distances to their work. Recognizing the great disadvantage of scattered holdings broken into such small areas, the Japanese Government has passed laws for the adjustment of farm lands which have been in force since 1900. It provides for the exchange of lands; for changing boundaries; for changing or abolishing roads, embankments, ridges or canals and for alterations in irrigation and drainage which would ensure larger areas with channels and roads straightened, made less numerous and less wasteful of time, labor and land. Up to 1907 Japan had issued permits for the readjustment of over 240,000 acres, and Fig. 14 is a landscape in one of these readjusted districts. To provide capable experts for planning and supervising these changes the Government in 1905 intrusted the training of men to the higher agricultural school belonging to the Dai Nippon Agricultural Association and since 1906 the Agricultural College and the Kogyokusha have undertaken the same task and now there are men sufficient to push the work as rapidly as desired.

It may be remembered, too, as showing how, along other fundamental lines, Japan is taking effective steps to improve the condition of her people, that she already has her Imperial highways extending from one province to another; her prefectural roads which connect the cities and villages within the prefecture; and those more local which serve the farms and villages. Each of the three systems of roads is maintained by a specific tax levied for the purpose which is expended under proper supervision, a designated section of road being kept in repair through the year by a specially appointed crew, as is the practice in railroad maintenance. The result is, Japan has roads maintained in excellent condition, always narrow, sacrificing the minimum of land, and everywhere without fences.

How the fields are crowded with crops and all available land is made to do full duty in these old, long-tilled countries is evident in Fig. 15 where even the narrow dividing ridges but a foot wide, which retain the water on the rice paddies, are bearing a heavy crop of soy beans; and where may be seen the narrow pear orchard standing on the very slightest rise of ground, not a foot above the water all around, which could better be left in grading the paddies to proper level.

How closely the ground itself may be crowded with plants is seen in Fig. 16, where a young peach orchard, whose tree tops were six feet through, planted in rows twenty-two feet apart, had also ten rows of cabbage, two rows of large windsor beans and a row of garden peas. Thirteen rows of vegetables in 22 feet, all luxuriant and strong, and note the judgment shown in placing the tallest plants, needing the most sun, in the center between the trees.

But these old people, used to crowding and to being crowded, and long ago capable of making four blades of grass grow where Nature grew but one, have also learned how to double the acreage where a crop needs more elbow than it does standing room, as seen in Fig. 17. This man's garden had an area of but 63 by 68 feet and two square rods of this was held sacred to the family grave mound, and yet his statement of yields, number of crops and prices made his earning $100 a year on less than one-tenth of an acre.

His crop of cucumbers on less than .06 of an acre would bring him $20. He had already sold $5 worth of greens and a second crop would follow the cucumbers. He had just irrigated his garden from an adjoining canal, using a foot-power pump, and stated that until it rained he would repeat the watering once per week. It was his wife who stood in the garden and, although wearing trousers, her dress showed full regard for modesty.

But crowding crops more closely in the field not only requires higher feeding to bring greater returns, but also relatively greater care, closer watchfulness in a hundred ways and a patience far beyond American measure; and so, before the crowding of the crops in the field and along with it, there came to these very old farmers a crowding of the grey matter in the brain with the evolution of effective texture. This is shown in his fields which crowd the landscape. It is seen in the crops which crowd his fields. You see it in the old man's face, Fig. 18, standing opposite his compeer, Prince Ching, Fig. 19, each clad in winter dress which is the embodiment of conversation, retaining the fires of the body for its own needs, to release the growth on mountain sides for other uses. And when one realizes how, nearly to the extreme limits, conservation along all important lines is being practiced as an inherited instinct, there need be no surprise when one reflects that the two men, one as feeder and the other as leader, are standing in the fore of a body of four hundred millions of people who have marched as a nation through perhaps forty centuries, and who now, in the light and great promise of unfolding science have their faces set toward a still more hopeful and longer future.

On February 21st the Tosa Maru left Yokohama for Kobe at schedule time on the tick of the watch, as she had done from Seattle. All Japanese steamers appear to be moved with the promptness of a railway train. On reaching Kobe we transferred to the Yamaguchi Maru which sailed the following morning, to shorten the time of reaching Shanghai. This left but an afternoon for a trip into the country between Kobe and Osaka, where we found, if possible, even higher and more intensive culture practices than on the Tokyo plain, there being less land not carrying a winter crop. And Fig. 20 shows how closely the crops crowd the houses and shops. Here were very many cement lined cisterns or sheltered reservoirs for collecting manures and preparing fertilizers and the appearance of both soil and crops showed in a marked manner to what advantage. We passed a garden of nearly an acre entirely devoted to English violets just coming into full bloom. They were grown in long parallel east and west beds about three feet wide. On the north edge of each bed was erected a rice-straw screen four feet high which inclined to the south, overhanging the bed at an angle of some thirty-five degrees, thus forming a sort of bake-oven tent which reflected the sun, broke the force of the wind and checked the loss of heat absorbed by the soil.

The voyage from Kobe to Moji was made between 10 in the morning, February 24th, and 5 .30 P. M. of February 25th over a quiet sea with an enjoyable ride. Being fogbound during the night gave us the whole of Japan's beautiful Inland Sea, enchanting beyond measure, in all its near and distant beauty but which no pen, no brush, no camera may attempt. Only the eye can convey. Before reaching harbor the tide had been rising and the strait separating Honshu from Kyushu island was running like a mighty swirling river between Moji and Shimonoseki, dangerous to attempt in the dark, so we waited until morning.

There was cargo to take on board and the steamer must coal. No sooner had the anchor dropped and the steamer swung into the current than lighters came alongside with out-going freight. The small, strong, agile Japanese stevedores had this task completed by 8:30 P. M. and when we returned to the deck after supper another scene was on. The cargo lighters had gone and four large barges bearing 250 tons of coal had taken their places on opposite sides of the steamer, each illuminated with buckets of blazing coal or by burning conical heaps on the surface. From the bottom of these pits in the darkness the illumination suggested huge decapitated ant heaps in the wildest frenzy, for the coal seemed covered and there was hurry in every direction. Men and women, boys and girls, bending to their tasks, were filling shallow saucer-shaped baskets with coal and stacking them eight to ten high in a semi-circle, like coin for delivery. Rising out of these pits sixteen feet up the side of the steamer and along her deck to the chutes leading to her bunkers were what seemed four endless human chains, in service the prototype of our modern conveyors, but here each link animated by its own power. Up these conveyors the loaded buckets passed, one following another at the rate of 40 to 60 per minute, to return empty by the descending line, and over the four chains one hundred tons per hour, for 250 tons of coal passed to the bunkers in two and a half hours. Both men and women stood in the line and at the upper turn of one of these, emptying the buckets down the chute, was a mother with her two-year-old child in the sling on back, where it rocked and swayed to and fro, happy the entire time. It was often necessary for the mother to adjust her baby in the sling whenever it was leaning uncomfortably too far to one side or the other, but she did it skillfully, always with a shrug of the shoulders, for both hands were full. The mother looked strong, was apparently accepting her lot as a matter of course and often, with a smile, turned her face to the child, who patted it and played with her ears and hair. Probably her husband was doing his part in a more strenuous place in the chain and neither had time to be troubled with affinities for it was 10:30 P. M. when the baskets stopped, and somewhere no doubt there was a home to be reached and perhaps supper to get. Shall we be able, when our numbers have vastly increased, to permit all needful earnings to be acquired in a better way?

We left Moji in the early morning and late in the evening of the same day entered the beautiful harbor of Nagasaki, all on board waiting until morning for a launch to go ashore. We were to sail again at noon so available time for observation was short and we set out in a ricksha at once for our first near view of terraced gardening on the steep hillsides in Japan. In reaching them and in returning our course led through streets paved with long, thick and narrow stone blocks, having deep open gutters on one or both sides close along the houses, into which waste water was emptied and through which the storm waters found their way to the sea. Few of these streets were more than twelve feet wide and close watching, with much dodging, was required to make way through them. Here, too, the night soil of the city was being removed in closed receptacles on the shoulders of men, on the backs of horses and cattle and on carts drawn by either. Other men and women were hurrying along with baskets of vegetables well illustrated in Fig. 21, some with fresh cabbage, others with high stacks of crisp lettuce, some with monstrous white radishes or turnips, others with bundles of onions, all coming down from the terraced gardens to the markets. We passed loads of green bamboo poles just cut, three inches in diameter at the butt and twenty feet long, drawn on carts. Both men and women were carrying young children and older ones were playing and singing in the street. Very many old women, some feeble looking, moved, loaded, through the throng. Homely little dogs, an occasional lean cat, and hens and roosters scurried across the street from one low market or store to another. Back of the rows of small stores and shops fronting on the clean narrow streets were the dwellings whose exits seemed to open through the stores, few or no open courts of any size separating them from the market or shop. The opportunity which the oriental housewife may have in the choice of vegetables on going to the market, and the attractive manner of displaying such products in Japan, are seen in Fig. 22.

We finally reached one of the terraced hillsides which rise five hundred to a thousand feet above the harbor with sides so steep that garden areas have a width of seldom more than twenty to thirty feet and often less, while the front of each terrace may be a stone wall, sometimes twelve feet high, often more than six, four and five feet being the most common height. One of these hillside slopes is seen in Fig. 23. These terraced gardens are both short and narrow and most of them bounded by stone walls on three sides, suggesting house foundations, the two end walls sloping down the hill from the height of the back terrace, dropping to the ground level in front, these forming foot-paths leading up the slope occasionally with one, two or three steps in places.

Each terrace sloped slightly down the hill at a small angle and had a low ridge along the front. Around its entire border a narrow drain or furrow was arranged to collect surface water and direct it to drainage channels or into a catch basin where it might be put back on the garden or be used in preparing liquid fertilizer. At one corner of many of these small terraced gardens were cement lined pits, used both as catch basins for water and as receptacles for liquid manure or as places in which to prepare compost. Far up the steep paths, too, along either side, we saw many piles of stable manure awaiting application, all of which had been brought up the slopes in backets on bamboo poles, carried on the shoulders of men and women.

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Part of Farmers of Forty Centuries
Keywords sustainable agriculture
Authors Ethan
License CC-BY-SA-3.0
Language English (en)
Related 0 subpages, 9 pages link here
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Created September 28, 2015 by Ethan
Modified December 6, 2023 by Felipe Schenone
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