Nagasaki, Japan

Wednesday, September 18, 1929

Stretched out on my blankets on the upper deck last night and got 39 winks under a full moon. Sailors swabbing the deck got me up at 5:30. About seven you could see some of the islands off the coast. From nine to eleven we were passing quite close to some large beautiful islands—all mountainous and green, a pleasant contrast to the deep blue of the sea. Shortly before one we steamed into the bay. Nagasaki was hidden by a promontory of land and I was not able to locate its position till we were hardly more than a mile off.

Japan is all mountainous here and the green slopes are terraced as so many huge steps. Some slopes are tree-covered, and from the hillsides one can often see the curved roof of a shrine or temple. It is indeed a pretty harbor. On the north side were a couple of shipyards where the iron hulks of future ships were being put together. The shores were crowded with small craft. A few ships lay at anchor in the harbor, one of which was the Asama Maru, the new fast passenger ship to America.

We docked at the N.Y.K. wharf and I gathered up my junk and went through customs nearby. This process did nothing more than to mess things up in general. A streetcar took me to the station where with a little difficulty I got over that I wished a third class ticket for Kobe.

Nagasaki is a good-sized city and Japan’s greatest port. The city itself is far from attractive—bumpy gravel roads, streets of low one-storey shops, none too attractive. A couple of canals were innocent of water and the boats were resting in a lovely, slimy, black, oozy mud. The terraced hills were the redeeming feature. These seemed to be, near the city, taken up with tombstones and some temples.

The train left at 2:40 PM and of course I was the only white in third. For once I had two pleasant surprises—the first that the train was not crowded, second that the seats were actually cushioned. In a few minutes we were out in the hills, valleys, ravines, going under hills through tunnels, climbing grades and tearing down again.

Never have I seen such intensive agriculture carried on except in that most densely populated region lying between Hongkong and Canton. Japan is a small country and it is said that 5/6 of it are not cultivatable. The population is about 60,000,000 [127,076,183 in 2009] and due to the increasing birth rate is gaining around a million a year. Thus no space can afford to be wasted.

Most every country east of Suez is gaining in population due to advancing birth rates. The result—heaping misery on misery. In the first place, the religions encourage having many offspring. The Buddhists must have sons who will perform the rites after the father’s death so that his soul will not wander in the waste places in the universe but find peace. Daughters are not wanted—only sons. With a high death rate, as much in some countries as 4 out of 5, it is not safe to have but one son, for he may die. If the wife does not produce sons, it is considered in many places disgraceful, and the husband reverts to concubines. A son from one of these is considered legal. Then too, a son is an old age pension, to help add to the family income at a very early age and to keep the parents when old age overtakes them.

Thus while the West limits its birth control to conform to a comfortable standard of living, the East gains rapidly in population and adds burden to an already heavy burden. Italy is also showing a rapid increase. The introduction of modern methods of medical science in the East is lowering the death rate—and only helping to bring about a crisis sooner.

On every side were green terraced hills of rice. Small villages were numerous, clustering about the main road, often barely wide enough for an auto. But this is no drawback for there are but very few autos in these country districts—in the cities, yes.

Houses were for the most part constructed of a framework of bamboo over which had been plastered the mud walls. Straw to the thickness of one foot served as roof. Most homes had a yard of tiling on the eaves to ensure better drainage. The houses were practically open to the front and a good part of the back. Sliding windows served to keep out rain, cold, or for privacy. The whole appearance was as a rule very attractive and neat—more like a doll house.

As for the interior—as far as I could see it was always one room with perhaps a small partition half serving to make a second or third. Wooden posts supported the ceiling. The wood floor was often covered by a straw rug or similar mats. Perhaps there might be several bureaus around the walls in which clothes, etc. were kept. Such articles as chairs, tables, and beds were but very rarely to be seen, the floor serving just as well.

Temples were everywhere and almost always to be found on hillsides. The curved roofs and graceful little shrines half hidden among the trees never fail to enhance the beauty of the spot nor to lend a charm that is steeped in the traditions of dozens of centuries of Buddhism in Japan.

The railroad followed close to the inland sea all the way to Moji, the opposite end of the island. Japan has an extremely irregular coastline and there are a number of large inland seas, magnificently set in a surrounding of beautiful hills and mountains. The calm surface is always dotted here and there with picturesque boats, their white sails standing out before the breeze in sharp relief to the misty blue hills in the distance. Small fishing villages nestle down along the shore and craggy green islets protrude here and there to touch off a scene that is hard to rival.

Such were the garden-lands through which the train rolled on its way to Moji. Arrived at this place shortly after eight—and dark, it was necessary to take a ferry boat across a mile of water to the land island on which are located most of the great cities of Japan. Moji is a manufacturing center, having there a large government iron works, and other large industries.

A train was waiting to carry us on our way, in fact two trains were waiting, one for 1st and 2nd, the other all for 3rd, 13 coaches and all full. Our car number is marked on your ticket and you must be in the right car. Fortunately I got a seat to myself; bought a box lunch for 30 sen and pulling down the small table attached to the seat in front of me, I proceeded to dig into the flavored rice with the chopsticks.

I had picked up a rather novel traveling companion. I was first aware of his presence some time before reaching Moji, for the man went out upon the platform, next to which was my seat, and aired his lungs long and lustily, much to my disgust and a general slam on all music in general. With such a bad introduction, he came into the car again and parked his squatty self on the seat opposite. Blinking his eyes, between which was a stubby, curved pug nose, he shoved his closely-cropped head half way across the intervening space and opened up the conversation. He asked if he might ride to Kobe with me and as he had a ticket to Osaka, a half hour farther on, I did not refuse him the pleasure and honor. Once in our new train he pulled off his shoes (as most all do) and hung his feet out the window (as most do not). I was sorry he was not in the seat in back instead of in front of me. However he soon pulled them in again and finally fell asleep.

It was of course dark by now, and a gorgeous golden moon had just risen above distant mountains and was playing havoc with striking cloud effects.

I stayed awake for a while to see the moon across a great inland sea which we were to follow for some time. It was as a painted picture—fields green even at night—black hills—silver sea dotted with black islands and sailboats—and finally the lights of a dozen villages and isolated farmhouses high on the hillsides. With such inspiring scenery, I managed by some remarkable contortions to fit into the small seat in a more or less horizontal position—then almost immediately fell dead to the world.

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