Project Canterbury

Sea-Girt Yezo

Glimpses at Missionary Work in North Japan.

By John Batchelor

London: Church Missionary Society, 1902.

Chapter I. Concerning the Island of Yezo.

"Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature." St. Mark xvi. 15.

YOU will notice that I have headed this chapter, "Concerning the Island of Yezo." And I will tell you at once that the purpose of the whole book is to give information about the work of the Church Missionary Society for Jesus Christ in that part of the world.

It is written by one who has been engaged in this Mission almost from its commencement, and contains only such matters as have been gathered out of his own experience. The people mentioned in it have all been personal friends, and the incidents recorded are only those which have come under his own eye.

"Yezo! Let me think now. I have heard of that place somewhere! [1/2] where! Where is it? What kind of a land is it? Is the country called by the name of Yezo a beautiful one, and is it hot or cold there? Is it wet or dry? Is it healthy or unhealthy? What sort of people live there? Are the natives white or black?--white like ourselves, or black like the Negroes? Are they yellow like the Chinese, or copper-coloured like the Red Indians? Are they mild and gentle in disposition like some of the tribes of Africa, or are they savage and cruel like the head-hunters of Formosa and the Dyaks of Borneo? Are they short and stumpy like the Central African dwarfs, or tall and straight like the big Sikhs of India? Do they go about naked like some of the people of the Upper Nile, or do they clothe themselves as thickly as the Eskimo of the Arctic regions? And are they few or many in number? What, too, has the Church Missionary Society done among them in the past, and what is being done by the Society now? How many missionaries have been sent to the people, and what are their names? Where are their stations? Do the inhabitants of the island listen readily to the Gospel message? How many of them have professed faith in the Lord Jesus? Have they any churches? If so, are they well attended?"

The reader may perhaps feel inclined to ask many of these questions, and various others like them. If so, I will inform him at once that they are the very things this little book desires to speak to him about, so that if he will have the patience to read it carefully through, I think he will find most of them answered before he gets to the end.

The name Yezo is most likely of Ainu origin, and, if so, the word means "abounding in game." It is a name which was formerly applied to an island in far-away North Japan, and was probably given to it by the Ainu because in olden times there were many herds of deer and large numbers of bears, wolves, foxes, hares, [2/3] and otters, as well as multitudes of other animals living among the mountains and upon the plains. And besides these, there was plenty of wild fowl, such as ducks, greebe, geese, and swans, and swarms of salmon and abundance of other fishes along the sea-coast and in the rivers and lakes.

Since the Japanese have crossed to this island the name has been changed, so that the place is now called Hokkaido. This word is of Chinese origin, and means "Northern-sea-circuit." If any one desires to know how it is that a Japanese island has a Chinese name given to it, he must remember that the Japanese have borrowed the characters or letters with which to write the names of their islands, cities, towns, and villages from their Chinese neighbours. They did this because they formerly had no suitable writing of their own to do it with. But it must not be imagined that because they have Chinese names therefore the places belong to [3/4] China, for this is not so by any means. So far as is known, no part of the Japanese Empire, Formosa excluded, ever belonged to China.

Hokkaido is a more comprehensive term than Yezo. That is to say, it embraces more, for it includes the Kurile Islands, and several others besides Yezo in it. The Kurile Islands lie off the north-eastern and the other islands off the western coasts. Only the older name, i.e. Yezo, is used in this book, and it is meant to cover all the C.M.S. work in the Hokkaido Jurisdiction, whether it be in Yezo proper or in the adjacent islands just mentioned.

There is just another fact which ought to be mentioned perhaps before proceeding, and it is this. The name Yezo used also to be applied to the northern portions of the Main Island of Japan. And not only so, but it is also the name by which the ancient Japanese knew the Ainu. Yezo was the Fatherland and Yezo-jin was the Ainu race, so that in use it is very like England and English.

It will be noticed that I have called Hokkaido a "Jurisdiction." This is a very long word, to be sure, but many of my readers will, of course, know that the use of this word implies someone in [4/5] authority in Yezo to oversee the work, and, therefore, will perhaps ask, "But is there a Bishop in Yezo? If so, what is his name?" To these questions I can happily answer, "Yes, we have our Bishop; and his name is Bishop Fyson." Bishop Fyson was the first and only C.M.S. missionary ever sent to Niigata. This was many years ago. After living and working in that city for several years, Mr. Fyson went to Tokyo, and. then to Osaka and Yokohania. He did a great deal of work in translating the Holy Bible and Prayerbook into Japanese. It was in the year 1896 that he was appointed Bishop of Hokkaido. We all considered ourselves especially fortunate in having him set over us, and when he came amongst us he was welcomed most sincerely both by English and Japanese alike. The fact of our having a Bishop will help to [5/6] show you that Yezo is considered to be an important missionary centre.

If you will refer to the map I now give, you will see that Yezo is divided from the mainland of Japan by a narrow strait. This strait is less than fifteen miles across at one place. In size the island is about as large as Ireland, and although so small, as compared with the rest of Japan, it forms a most important portion of the [6/7] Emperor's dominions. Close to it is situated a place called Saghalien, which is a Russian convict station, and lies off the coasts of Siberia. The herbs, trees, and flowers, and also the birds, fishes, and animals of Yezo, are like those found in England and other parts of Europe, and do not resemble those to be seen elsewhere in Japan, which are similar to the kinds found in Asia. By this you will understand that Yezo is very much like home, and is a sub-region of Europe. It is more mountainous than Great Britain, however, and a little hotter in summer and slightly colder during the winter months. And, besides, it has a large number of volcanoes, and many sulphur and other kinds of mineral hot springs upon it. Earthquakes, too, though not often severe, are somewhat frequent.

Please look at the map once again. You will see by it that the island may, without any very great stretch of imagination, be said to resemble a ray-fish in shape. It has a population of a little more than a million Japanese and just under sixteen thousand Ainu living on it. The word Ainu (pronounced I-nu in English) means "man" or "men," and is the name by which the aborigines [7/8] of Japan know themselves. When I say that the Ainu are the "aborigines of Japan," I mean that they formerly inhabited the whole of Japan, and were, therefore, once much more numerous than they are to-day.

The Japanese are increasing very fast on the island, for thousands upon thousands of them migrate here from the main islands of the Mikado's Empire every year. But the poor Ainu are gradually dying out; and indeed I do not suppose there will be many true Ainu left in fifty years' time, while their language will, I think, have become almost a thing of the past within twenty years. This seems to us to be a great pity, for it is always sad to hear of a race of people becoming quite extinct. But God has permitted it for some wise reason, of which we are at present ignorant. Perhaps we shall know all about it some day, at the end of time, for it is God, and God only, Who allows these things to come to pass.

"But are the people, Japanese and Ainu too, favourable to the Gospel of their salvation?" It is a great joy to us to be able to answer "Yes" to this question. It is true, indeed, that we now and then meet one or two who are against it, as in other parts of Japan; but this is almost always because they do not understand its meaning and object. But for the most part the people are certainly in favour of it. We therefore rejoice, well knowing what the result must be, namely, the salvation of many souls for ever.

Yezo has a rich soil in many places, and God has been pleased to place much mineral wealth in the island. The Japanese are among the wisest of people, and are very pushing and thrifty; while, sad to say, the Ainu are far less active and much less thoughtful for the future. They do not appear to have any very great desire for anything beyond the immediate present, and therefore do not exert themselves more than they are obliged to do. And as for turning to and developing the country, why, they have never thought of such a thing! I am now speaking of the majority of the people, [9/10] who, as you know, are Heathen. But the Christians are different, for these have learned to take a real interest in their work and are trying to make some little provision for the future. It is because the Japanese are more active and thoughtful than the Ainu that they come to Yezo in such large numbers and are so prosperous. Indeed, one cannot help saying that they work so well and act so thriftily that they deserve to prosper.

"But," perhaps you will ask, "what do they work at?" To this I reply: Some of them come to seek gold, lead, copper, silver, or [9/11] coal in the various mines; others take up fishing stations along the sea-coast, where they catch many kinds of fish, such as salmon, cod, herrings, sardines, as well as sharks, dolphins, and even sea-leopards and whales. These they dry and export to other parts of Japan and also to China. Many thousands of tons of herrings and sardines are boiled upon the coast as soon as caught and thoroughly pressed in wooden frames. The oil thus extracted from them is used for lighting and lubricating purposes, while the solid parts make guano, which is exported to Southern Japan for use on the rice-fields. Thousands of Japanese make a good living out of this industry. Some, again, come to cut down timber for sale, of which there is an enormous quantity. Tens of thousands of sleepers are sent from here for the railways in China every year. Matches are also made out of the poplar-trees and, I hear, find their way to the remote parts of India, China, and even Burma. Other Japanese come and settle down and farm the land around their homes. It is a great pleasure to see the country being gradually developed in this way. Twenty-five years ago one used to find it very [11/12] monotonous sometimes, or even quite tedious, I am afraid, to be obliged to ride on horseback along a small bridle-path through miles upon miles of forest with scarcely any clearings to relieve the view; it was often very lonely as well as trying to the eyes. At that time the Japanese population did not exceed two hundred and thirty thousand souls for the whole of Yezo, and the Ainu somewhere about twenty thousand. This latter race never cultivated any gardens to speak of, and as for digging and manuring them, that was altogether out of the question. For it must be remembered that the Ainu have always been hunters and fishermen. Their villages, too, are small and very far apart in some cases. Nor have they in any way developed the mines; indeed, they did not even know what a mine was till the Japanese came among them. I used to think it very wrong of the Ainu not to make better gardens for themselves, and was under the impression that it was idleness which kept them from doing so. But in this I was quite wrong. It was really not idleness that stood in the way, but religion. Thus, for example, had the ancient Ainu known the value of iron and other minerals and how to work them, they could not have made mines, because their religion taught them that by digging deep holes in the earth they would be disturbing the gods and demons who, it was supposed, resided there. If they were disturbed the people thought they would [12/13] come out and punish them with all kinds of evil. It was just the same thing with regard to digging the gardens, for they believed that by doing so they would be insulting the gods who they fancy watch over the land. In this way you will see how the heathen religions do in some cases and in some matters prevent progress and prosperity. One old man once refused to put manure on my garden because he was, he said, afraid of offending the gods.

It seemed right and natural under such circumstances that the Japanese should come and develop the good land the Ainu have thus so long neglected, though one cannot but feel very sorry when one sees a race, ancient and gentle as this is, slowly ebbing away. God has given the [13/14] land to man to make use of, and it appears to be one of His own unchanging laws that if man will not use the talents He has given him they shall be taken away and given to another. Thus it is that the Ainu are now suffering the loss of their Fatherland in Yezo as they have done in the other parts of this good Empire of Japan. Let us lay this rule to heart and try to make the very best use we can of our opportunities, whatever they may be. Let us give God thanks and praise for His wonderful love and mercy in having saved a remnant of this race before it has passed off the earth for ever. And let us be very thankful that our religion does not hinder human progress, but advances it by giving us the true knowledge of God and our salvation.

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