Kobe, Japan

Saturday, September 21, 1929

There is great evidence in Japan of Americanization and Europeanization. Trains, trams, lighting systems, streets, articles sold in shops, the abandonment of Japanese-style architecture in new buildings and the adoption of Western style, streets busy with autos while rickshaws are conspicuous by their absence. Many, many shops have their signs and advertisements in English, many more in Japanese and English. The book stores contain nearly as many English volumes as Japanese, and also some in German. Much of the dress is western, especially the men’s. If one speaks English, one has a much better chance of finding a position in business. A great many people speak at least a few words of English. It seems as though they are very proud to do so and never miss a chance. Cecil says the same is true of Germans—that those who can speak English use it whenever possible in preference to their native tongue. It seems as though English will someday be the universal language. I doubt if Esperanto, a language (artificial) composed of all European languages, will ever be used widely. [Do not miss investigating this link—absolutely charming!! Reminds one of Elvish—in fact, here is that link:  Elvish.]

In spite of Japan’s tendency toward things western (for that matter all the East has that tendency), its people are closely knit nationally, so much so that foreigners who have business in this country (outside of shipping offices, etc.) have a hard time. As an American lady who has lived in Japan 18 years put it today, “the only thing we can do to make money is to teach them English.” In Kobe I have yet to see a foreign-owned shop or store.

Formerly in Japan, pidgin English was used as it is today in China. Its use was resented and it died out here as it probably shall some day in China. Though the vocabulary contains but a few hundred words, it is surprising the range of subjects that they can cover. Here is a conversation in that jargon concerning the replacing of a mission organ which had been damaged by rain leaking through a hole in the roof:

“Have got before time one piecee organ belong makee sing song. Have puttee organ house inside. Roof topside have makee break. Lain come chop chop makee spoilum organ. Just now must catchee one more piecee.”

And here at the barber’s:

“Mornin’, barber-man.”

“Mornin’, Missi Consun; wanchee my cuttee heh?”

“Yes, no wanchee cuttee too muchee; can cuttee littee.”

“Oll ligh! My savee. My cuttee any man heh: plentee man catchee my shabe he, ebbily mornin’. Before time Hongkong gobbunor ollo time my shabe he.”

“What ting have got today, barber-man?”

“New piecy wice-loy hab go ngamún (pamên) today.”

“That Chinaman talkee he belong good man?”

“No man savey: moos wait littee time, can see. Some man talkee he moos wanchee stop lat gambaloo.”

“Have got too muchee gamble-housee that creek-side!”

“Yih! Before time Sir Blook Lobisson no pay he stop that side.”

“What for that viceroy he soldier-man no look out>”

“He no likee. S’pose Missi Hanve no bobbery (bother) he, he no likee no hat (hard). Missi Hance no savey China talkee: moos wanchee new piecy largee Consun talkee he.”

“Any man talkee my so fashion?” What ting that Chinaman my?”

Rather easy to pick up but sometimes hard to get the meaning of.

It was still raining this morning, so Cecil and I had our usual furious game of ping pong for an hour or so, then read till lunch time. A drizzle was still making things unpleasant outside after lunch, but we voted to put on our slickers and take a walk down to Theatre Street (maybe it isn’t called that).

At the head of this street we found a small park in which was a tall tower covered with Japanese characters. We walked up the eleven floors to its observation room. There we had a splendid view of Kobe. A sea of roofs extended out in every direction. To the tree-covered hills to the north; to the harbor and great steel frames of the shipyard to the south; to the east they were lost in the buildings of the modern business section and the low-hanging clouds and mist; to the west in the tall chimneys of the factories and the mist. It was a drab, gray, cheerless scene in the rain. I was surprised at the great extent of the city, three or more miles along the coast in either direction. The hills do not permit it to grow to the north. This district is very densely populated—Kobe with about 650,000 people, Kyoto about an hour’s ride north on the train, the same size, and Osaka a half hour away, the largest city in Japan. Then there are Yokohama and Tokyo but a couple hundred miles to the east.

Theatre Street (I’ll call it) is a thoroughfare of much importance. Like Motomachi St. no autos are allowed on it. The street teems with life and even today in the rain was very colorful. Everybody carried large colored parasols and women’s dress was gay as it was loud (which when boiled down are one and the same here). On both sides are all sorts of shops—bakeries, restaurants, leathers, jewelry, dry goods, silks, shoes, clothes—everything. There were high class cafés and theatres—yes, theatre after theatre, and all advertising that fact by a most glaring conglomeration of painted signs and pictures. These in themselves are a show—something like advertisements for a circus side-show. Villains and heroes at battle, fleeing heroines, blood and thunder, spectacular and dramatic situations. The Japanese movies made the biggest howl. Some were showing American films.

We decided on a theatre from which issued sounds of a fight or a lively time. Thirty sen let us in on the plot. The theatre was rather small. Two dozen rows of wooden benches formed the main section of seats. There were boxes on the sides in which one squatted on one’s haunches, and a balcony above. A row of Japanese lanterns hung from the edge of the balcony. As we entered the curtain was pulled across the stage—a curtain of white cloth having a large design in the center and colored sailboats, fans, and Japanese characters scattered about miscellaneously.

The intermission was fifteen minutes and in this time we had a good look at the people. The place was very crowded—in fact we were forced to stand till shortly before the performance began anew. All of those present seemed to be of the lower classes. Everybody’s brother was there; no end of kids, mothers with babies on their back, grandmothers with babies on their back. Cecil found two vacant seats in the back row and we squeezed in between a half dozen babies and lots of junk like parasols, etc.

A clacking sound was heard above the hubbub of the audience. It was the signal that things would soon begin. The woman in front changed her position and sat on her bare feet. The curtain was pulled back to one side but the talking did not entirely stop—nor did the babies.

The setting was a woodland scene with passable scenery. In came a bedraggled young man and a geisha girl with him. The conversation was all in Japanese so we could guess at the plot—and that was a hard job to tackle. Soon a soldier entered and nothing happened but lots of talk.

Take it back. The first scene introduced two more main characters—a man and wife (?) on a picnic in the woods. Two servants brought up the rear and food. A blanket was spread and the couple sat down to an orange between them (Scotch picnic), the man spitting the seeds out his mouth in a most graceful manner. He appeared to be a proverbial tired businessman, probably a government official of some importance as later developments suggested. Birds were heard warbling in the trees and he pointed to them as they flew across the sky. A butterfly dropped down from above and bounced up and down as he tried to catch it with his hat. The soldier appeared, and soon the geisha girl and her boyfriend. The picnicker and soldier came to a heated argument and nearly to blows. Of course the soldier was the villain—you could tell it by the dirty look in his eyes.

The next scene revealed Spec’s playful modesty when he slapped his geisha girl on the leg for showing her ankle. An old woman entered and squatted on a rug. I took her to be the mother. From then on Specs was on all fours most of the time, bowing almost after every sentence, as a Moslem prays to Mohammed. The whole list of characters came to talk with the old lady, each leaving as the next entered. When the soldier finally knelt before her and commenced his bowing program, we gave it up. Kids would start crying, and the mother would stand up, jiggle up and down till the baby changed its mind. Twomothers sitting at the right of me were nursing babies. A woman behind a screen on stage picked a few notes of tinny music from a native instrument now and then. All in all it was pretty flat. Cecil left with indigestion and I with a headache.

Continuing our way down Theatre St. we came to a display in a clinic that was frank and open enough—something that one would not find at home where all things concerning sex are sealed with secrecy and ignorance. The display consisted of the embryo of three babies of various ages, all in jars of alcohol.

On the way home we stopped in a sort of park on temple grounds to see the Minatogawa Temple. The temple itself was closed and we could only walk around the park. While it is no beauty spot, the objects connected with the temple are interesting—stone lanterns, lions of stone symbolizing Buddha. The lion is the king of beasts and dominates over all evil spirits. The dragon—connected with rain—showers of blessings. The shrines with their graceful curved-up roofs.

Back at the Y we had our game of ping pong and usual 35-sen dinner of rice, meat, and vegetables. Still raining, but with a golfer’s never failing optimism when questions of weather are involved, I should say it will be a good clear day tomorrow.

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