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Sea-Girt Yezo

Glimpses at Missionary Work in North Japan.

By John Batchelor

London: Church Missionary Society, 1902.

Chapter V. The Beauties and Comforts of Yezo.

"And God saw every thing that He had made, and, behold, it was very good." Gen. i. 31.

AFTER what I have written in the two last chapters I am very much afraid the reader may perhaps think I have made a mistake in heading this one, "The beauties and comforts of Yezo." You may feel inclined to say that you do not yet quite understand where the "comforts" especially can come in. Yes; on looking over what has been written, I must confess that it does look rather gloomy in some respects, yet it is all true, nevertheless. In spite of all that has been said, however, it is a fact that Yezo is a very beautiful island, as indeed all mountainous countries must he; and not only so, but the missionary also finds it a very comfortable place to live and work in. Of course, it is not always winter here any more than it [53/54] is in England; and although neither England, nor Yezo, nor any other place I know or have heard of in this world is quite a Paradise, yet with care we may find comfort and peace anywhere, providing the Lord Jesus is with us. Without Him we may not expect to be quite happy anywhere. There is a beautiful hymn, written by Miss Frances R. Havergal, which is quite true, and which we missionaries in our supposed loneliness find to be so. It runs thus:--

"Like a river glorious
Is God's perfect peace;
Over all victorious
In its bright increase.
Perfect, yet it floweth
Fuller every day;
Perfect, yet it groweth
Deeper all the way.
Chorus--Stayed upon Jehovah,
Hearts are fully blessed;
Finding, as He promised.
Perfect peace and rest."

We all naturally love our own country, and rejoice over the animals, birds, flowers, and trees among which we have been brought up. There is much here in Yezo to remind us of them, and this fact is one source of interest and happiness to us. Many of the trees and shrubs, for example, are like those at home. Among them we recognize our old friend the oak; also the chestnut (both horse and Spanish), the walnut, fir, larch, elm, magnolia, poplar, birch, yew, guelder rose, lime, and even the mistletoe, with many others. Then there is the lespediza and scrub oak, grape vine, and also the hydrangea and many climbing plants besides. Then, too, we have the wild violet, dandelion, primula, gentian, monkshood, ox-eye daisy, lily of the valley, bracken, maidenhair fern, mosses, crow's-foot, wild convolvulus, jack-in-the-pulpit, plantain, chickweed, groundsel, and other such-like plants. Nor should we forget the fruit. In some places we find the wild cherry, strawberry, raspberry, [54/55] gooseberry, and red currant. Many fruit trees, too, have been introduced from Europe and America, such as almost every kind of apple, pear, and plum, as well as cherries (white heart and black). And besides these there are some other kinds of fruit for which there is no English name, one called kokuwa and another matatabi, both of which are something like a grape in shape, though not in flavour.

Just listen to the catalogue of things we have managed to get planted in our garden at Sapporo. Why, we are the envy of many of the people around us. There are strawberries, raspberries, rhubarb, red, white, and black currants, and gooseberries; all of which were given to us by kind American friends. Then, too, through the great kindness of Messrs. Sutton, of Reading, who send many missionaries garden seeds free of charge every year, we are able to grow such vegetables as cauliflowers, broccoli, peas, beans, turnips, carrots, radishes, cabbages, cucumbers, and many other good things; besides which they also most thoughtfully and kindly give us a few pretty flower [55/56] seeds as well. Thus you see we really have a great many comforts now. We, who are in a place where it is possible to have a little garden, always make the place look as much like home as we can; and we find that this not only gives pleasure to the missionaries themselves, but also to the people around, who come and look, as well as taste and try, and so prove the flavour of them for themselves. So you see that even so small a thing as a little vegetable or flower garden does its share of Mission work.

Now let us look at the birds. Among these we find eagles, all kinds of hawks and falcons, owls, rooks, jackdaws, skylarks, sparrows, tits, wrens, and other land birds; while at sea there are to be seen plenty of seagulls, albatrosses, cormorants, Mother Carey's chickens, and others. Among the lakes are to be found large numbers of wild ducks, geese, swans, and grebes. Nor should one forget the quails, snipe, and woodcock to be found among the valleys, lowlands, and swamps. And, of course, we never forget our beautiful little canary which we keep at home, and which gives us such nice songs. Thus it will be seen that if the land was only cultivated more extensively and as it is at home, one might imagine himself to be in England. You will not be surprised, therefore, to hear that even for this reason we missionaries have all cause to like Yezo, and feel really sorry for those who live in hot climates.

You can hardly imagine how beautiful the place is in the autumn. All countries, mountainous as this is, in common with the whole of Japan, must be beautiful at any time, but the season just before the winter is by far the prettiest of all. The autumn here is short and comes upon us suddenly. Thus, for example, it will be very fine one day and quite hot. There will not be the least suspicion that winter is at hand, to judge by the weather. But after a very hot day there will suddenly be a sharp frost. Then the following morning the sun will rise and beat down upon us with great heat. The result is that [56/57] in an hour or so the whole face of the mountains is completely altered. Yesterday all the trees--with, of course, the exception of the maples--were quite green, but by ten o'clock to-day they have all been changed, so that one sees every colour of the rainbow represented. It is a magnificent sight, and it seems to me that no pen can describe, or picture represent, it properly.

But to return to living creatures once again. There are plenty of fishes in the lakes and rivers of Yezo, as well as upon the seacoasts. There is the little minnow, small trout, carp, perch, roach, salmon, salmon-trout, and pike, among others in the vivers and lakes. Along the sea-coast are found sprats, herrings, mackerel, whiting, soles, plaice, codfish, and almost anything up to the sea-lion, walrus, and whale.

One word now about the animals and this chapter shall close. To begin with the smallest, we mention the mouse, then the rat, and so on upwards from the marten, squirrel, hare, racoon, fox, and wolf, up to the great brown bear. We must not forget, however, to mention that cats and dogs also abound on this island. There will perhaps be something of interest to tell you about some of these animals farther on, and so I will leave the subject at present.

Horses and oxen were introduced into Yezo from the Mainland of Japan, but milch-cows were brought from Europe and America. The horses were formerly not shod, though the Japanese have now learned to do so from Europeans. But their way of shoeing them strikes one as being very peculiar. Let me give you an example. The blacksmith takes good care to tie up the animal to be shod so fast and secure that there can be no possibility of getting kicked by it. The head is tied up on high [57/58] between a couple of tall posts first of all, and then each leg is fastened to one of four posts. The foot to be operated on first is tied close to the hough in the proper position for fixing the shoe on. Thus no horse so tied has a chance of kicking or biting and so injuring the blacksmith.

The Japanese were not a milk-drinking people before European cows were introduced, and many of them do not take milk even at the present day. This being so, it was no wonder to me to find here and there a farmer, some twenty-five years ago, who was not up in the matter of milking cows, though this has all been changed now. The most remarkable sight in this connexion I think I ever saw was in a far-away village 'called Tottori Mura, where a farmer had recently introduced a very nice cow. He wanted to milk her, but appeared to be afraid of his animal. He did not relish a kick from the hind leg of his cow, evidently. To make sure that this should not happen, I found that he had tied his cow up by all four legs, as well as by the head, to a post and rail fence. Not only so, but to make doubly sure, he sat on one side of the fence milking while the cow was on the other! He was milking the cow through the bars of the fence. I assure you I was both surprised and intensely amused at the performance. But never mind how the milking was done, the man got his milk, and after all that was what he wanted.

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