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Sea-Girt Yezo

Glimpses at Missionary Work in North Japan.

By John Batchelor

London: Church Missionary Society, 1902.

Chapter III. Summer Pests.

"He sent divers sorts of flies among them."--Ps. lxxviii. 45.

No doubt the words placed at the head of this chapter on the "Summer Pests" of Yezo will take the reader's mind back to the ten plagues of Egypt as recorded in Exodus. And truly the number of flies one meets with and is pestered by, while executing the duties of a missionary on this island, has often made me think of the plague of flies. Now, while writing of some other things, it is chiefly of these pests that I wish to speak in this chapter.

"How do you like Japan? Do you not find it very hot there?" These are questions which are often put to missionaries returning home on furlough. No doubt the central and southern portion of this Empire, though not tropical, are very hot places to live in during the summer months, and many people can hardly reside there without injury to their health. But we are glad to be able to report that this is not the case with regard to Yezo. The thermometer sometimes runs up to a little over ninety degrees of heat in [25/26] the shade for a few days in August, but with the exception of about three weeks the nights are for the most part beautifully cool; while the spring and autumn are never too hot. The worst worries that have to be experienced in the summer time are such things as mosquitoes, gad-flies, a tiny black fly the Japanese call buyo but which I believe we know in England by the name of midge, and some other small insects. The mosquitoes are very real nuisances, and in spite of the nets put up to defend us from them they often cause us sleepless nights. They get through the meshes of the net in the earlier part of the night when their bodies are thin and slim through fasting all day, and while inside they forthwith grow fat by feeding on the poor missionary. Indeed, so corpulent do they become that it is impossible for them to get out through the meshes again, chase them as we may. The morning, however, is the time for vengeance, for one has then the very great satisfaction of killing them. But night is not the only time they attack us, for even in the daytime one has often been obliged to wear a net over one's head to keep them off, particularly when passing through swampy country. As the land becomes drained and is brought under cultivation, these pests seem to become much fewer; in the damp and densely wooded districts, however, they are exceedingly numerous, and their stings are very sharp and venomous. It is said by some that the stings of mosquitoes cause fever. I do not know how this is, I am sure, in other countries, but I cannot say that the missionaries of Yezo, though frequently stung by them, experience any fever. I believe that only two have fever as a regular thing, and they both brought it with them from China, so that it cannot be traced to Yezo mosquitoes. Ague, it is true, is very rife in some parts of Yezo, but I believe this is due to bad drinking-water. Ague is not at all a pleasant complaint to be afflicted with, but, bad though it be, it is rather [26/27] uncomfortable than dangerous. I have seen whole villages of people down with it during the summer months, and have myself suffered among the rest. According to my own experience there is first a little chill or cold shiver down the back, accompanied by a desire to stretch oneself and to yawn a great deal. Then there is an hour of bitter cold shivering, followed by another of high fever. After this has passed off one perspires for an hour. That appears to be the end of the attack, excepting that it is all followed by a general weakness and bad headache. This kind of thing takes place every two or three days as regularly as clockwork, though there are some bad cases in which it occurs every day. It is necessary, therefore, to carry a good supply of quinine about with one, for this has proved to be a certain cure for ague among us. Twelve grains a day for about ten days, in four-grain doses, always works a cure for the time being.

It is said by the Ainu that mosquitoes and other flies are so fierce in some localities that they have been known to attack and kill even bears. This may appear to be somewhat difficult to believe, and, indeed, I could not believe it myself for many years. Yet it was positively asserted to be a fact by men in whom I could thoroughly trust, and whose word I had no right to doubt. I know now that it is quite true since I have been told how it happens. The way is very simple and takes place as follows. You must suppose there are two ranges of mountains some twenty or thirty miles apart, having a swampy plain with a few sluggish streams in it between them, and that the plain is covered with tall sedge and reeds--there are several such places in Yezo. Then suppose a bear on one range wishes to get across to the other, he walks down into the plain and commences his journey; or he may get into the plain through chasing some other animal he desires for food, such as a horse or deer. Before he has got very far the [27/28] mosquitoes attack him about the eyes, ears, and nose. When the eyes are stung they very quickly begin to swell up. This being so, Bruin commences to rub and scratch first one eye and then the other with his great paws, till in the end he makes them smart and bleed. The more he scratches the more they swell and give pain, and the more the blood flows the thicker come the mosquitoes. The final result is that the poor animal becomes quite blind and also mad with rage. There is no help for him when this stage has been reached, for the flies now have it all their own way, and never cease stinging him till, having completely lost his way among the swamps, the bear dies of exhaustion and starvation. Such a tale as this will [28/29] show at once what dreadful creatures mosquitoes are where they are most numerous.

They are a great worry also in our prayer-meetings and church services. It disturbs the worshipper when he is obliged to be continually smacking his own ankles, neck, face, or hands in vain attempts to slay these tormentors. Nor is it always pleasant for the officiating minister to hear and see first one and then another of his audience trying to kill them. However, one gets more or less used to these things in time, so that they do not cause so much distraction in the end as one might perhaps imagine. We have to take them as a matter of course, for we have learnt to expect them, and should think it wonderful if they did not put in an appearance at our meetings.

The gadflies are also almost unbearable in some localities. They are as large as hornets, and can sting through fairly thick clothing. Nor is their sting always of a light kind and to be treated indifferently; sometimes it proves to be of a very dangerous character. I once knew a gentleman who was stung on the foot by one of these pests. The sore became so bad that he was unable to put his foot to the ground for more than three months. These creatures also persecute the poor horses mercilessly, making them so wild that it is far from pleasant to ride them. More than once have I had my horse become unmanageable, and either dart away suddenly with me into the forests, or shoot me, without any previous warning, clear over his head; and all owing to the dreadful gadflies.

It is astonishing what an amount of instinct for self-preservation horses have had given them by their beneficent Creator, and it is instructive to notice how they put this gift to its proper use. Many of these animals are suffered to roam about the mountains in a semi-wild state. These congregate together and migrate to the seashore [29/30] when the flies are most troublesome. Here they walk a little way into the salt water and stand fasting all day, only coming out at night or in rough, windy weather to feed. Flies do not like wet or rough weather, or the sea air, and the worst of them, excepting the mosquitoes, appear for the most part to sleep during the night. It is at such times that the horses return to their pastures to feed. There is one good thing, however, about the habits of these terrible pests, the gadflies, which is worth a traveller's knowing, and that is that they do not like dark places. A horseman may therefore get a little rest for his beast during the day by putting it into a darkened lodge or stable.

It is necessary for the Yezo missionaries to do a good deal of their travelling on horseback; some missionaries make good use [30/32] also of a bicycle. The horses are not very large, and are what we should call ponies, but, notwithstanding this, they are very sturdy and have extraordinarily strong mouths, and equally strong wills of their own. They are very fond also of lying down in the water when the weather is warm. I know a missionary who has more than once suddenly found himself standing in a couple of feet or so of water, holding the reins of his horse, while the latter has been lying down, doing his best to roll and get cool. His luggage has also been treated in the same way. This is very inconvenient, for on opening the baskets after such a soaking his sugar is found melted, tea and bread spoilt, books rendered useless, and clothes wet through. After such a thing has happened, one generally has to do a little fasting, unless one can stand Japanese or Ainu food. On one occasion, after having had all his luggage ducked near to a Japanese village, the missionary went into an inn to get his goods dried, and, as he was hungry and it was about noon, he at the same time asked for his dinner. It was not long before the dinner came. It consisted of a very nice-looking little bird and some cold rice. He thought the bird was a woodcock, and ate it up with great relish. When it was all gone he turned to the lad who waited on him and asked him what bird it was he had just eaten, adding that it was very nice. "Oh," said he, "that was a little chicken. It took ill yesterday and died." Think of the poor missionary's surprise! He did not say anything, though he doubtless thought a very great deal. It is best in these places not to ask too many questions about what one is eating. A more funny thing than this happened to the same missionary once. It was this. His cook came in to him one morning and said he thought the master had better have a fowl for dinner that day. On asking him why, he explained that one of the fowls was in a dying condition--in fact, could hardly stand, and unless it was killed and eaten at once it would be too late. The cook was quietly informed that he might [32/34] have that fowl for his own dinner! It was accepted with thanks.

The Yezo ponies have thrown me several times, but I think the cruellest thing one ever did was to lie down in the middle of a river with me on the 1st of April one year. While in the water I instinctively cast my eyes round to see if any one was looking. I remembered what day it was, and felt particularly foolish. But I was very glad to comfort myself with the idea that neither the horse nor people knew anything about "All Fools' Day."

But to return to the Yezo pests. The midges, though troublesome, are not so bad as the mosquitoes and gadflies. They are very tiny, and are fond of attacking the eyes, though they also bite any other exposed part of the body. Wherever they bite they make a round puncture, out of which the blood trickles profusely. I have often seen the people returning from their gardens at the end of the day having the exposed parts of their bodies covered with blood, caused by the bites of these dreadful little creatures. Persons have also poisoned a [34/35] hand or foot through scratching the places where they have been bitten by them, for the bites cause so much irritation that it is almost impossible not to scratch the parts attacked.

Now, perhaps, you may wonder why I have told you all these things. Well, they have been mentioned only that you may see something of a missionary's life just as it is, for part of that life consists, in so far as Yezo is concerned, in trying to protect one's self from and killing mosquitoes, gadflies, midges, and other pests.

In many of the country inns one stays at for the night the fleas, too, are so uncommonly vicious that it is sometimes quite impossible to sleep. But those in the Ainu huts are ten times more lively and numerous, and often much larger. Earwigs are also a nuisance unless a person is watchful, for it is anything but pleasant to find them inside of one's socks when putting them on in the morning. Nor, once more, is it pleasant to have rats walking over one during the night, as sometimes has happened in Ainu huts. They became so bad once upon a time that the present writer found it necessary to have traps set close to his ears. They were not set in vain, for rats of no mean size were caught.

There are also other kinds of vermin which it is not necessary to mention here, as well as snakes and vipers. I will tell you of two things which happened to Chief Penri, an Ainu chief, in whose hut it was my privilege to stay for many months. One night, when lights were put out and we were all fast asleep, Chief Penri gave a horrible scream. The noise was so terrible that I got up from my sleeping-place to see what was the matter, and to offer help if necessary. He also arose, and after a good deal of conversation we were obliged to come to the conclusion that a rat had either taken a fancy to a mouthful of his head for supper, or wanted some of his hair to line its nest with; for it was certain, said he, that someone [35/36] (and here he gave me a meaning look with his bright eyes) or something had given his hair a most dreadful pull. The second thing is this. I noticed one day that the old man had lost two of his toes. Upon asking him how that happened he informed me that a viper had suddenly sprung upon him as he was walking along a path, and had fixed its fangs on the under part of the two missing members. Knowing that such bites are dangerous, he drew a knife, which he carried in his girdle, from its sheath, and cut both toes off, so that the blood which flowed from the wounds was thus made to carry the poison out with it. I think he was a brave man to act in that way.

Ever since being bitten by the viper he has been very much afraid of all kinds of snakes and adders. I am very sorry to say that he has always been a great drunkard, and when intoxicated is very noisy and rough sometimes. I used to have very hard times with him, and he was such a nuisance that I hardly knew what to do. However, I at last thought of a plan by which to keep him quiet. It was this. Whenever he became so noisy and wild that I could not work or read when living in his hut, I would go out and try to kill a snake, of which there are plenty about Piratori. If successful, I used to fix it on a pole and bring it into the hut. No sooner did I walk in with it than Penri would rush out and leave me quite alone till he was sober. As soon as he was gone I would hang the snake by the doorway, and so long as it was there Penri would not return. But as soon as he saw that it had been removed he would know that he had been forgiven, and come back. I am very sorry for poor old Penri. He really desires to be good and to be saved. But he has grown so great a slave to strong drink, that it seems as though he cannot give it up. He has often tried, but always failed. May the Master have mercy upon him!

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