Scribner's magazine 1, 1888
By William Elliot Griffits.
Japan is the land of surprises. Among things unexpected none strikes the visitor or resident more htan environment of art and its makers. One sees that the love of the beautful has penetrated to the lowerst classes, that taste is highly refined, that a long perspective of history has given a background out of which exquisite flowers of genius have bloomed, that the very shape of the fingers seen, literally, "on every hand," suggests delicacy and cunning skill; yet where are the factories and studios? Inside the dwellings, where are the bronzes, porcelain, and bric-à-brac? The house and living rooms, devoid of what we imagine to be furniture, suggest simplicity itself. Rarely are articles or virty visible. The whole cast of civilization suggests extreme frugality, if not poverty. One wonders how Europe and America can be so filled with exquisite works of art, once exported from, but now no longer to be easily duplicated in, "Everlasting Great Japan."
These impressions, so often expressed by others, were shared by the writer seventeen years ago, when he first trod the soil of the Honorable Country. One year's live as a lone foreigner in a daimio's castle twon, and three years in the national capital, with much traveling and many visits to palaces, temples, feudal mansions, and artists' homes, did not greatly dull the edge of surprise. Then, the richly stocked shops and factories in the treaty ports, flamboyant with the gay daubs and over-decorated wares which sell well abroad, had scarcely more than a beginning. Then, the subdivision of labor, now increasingly practised, and the crass products of prison toil were unheard of. The emplazonry of paper fans, umbreallas, and wall-hangings, which make perpetual red sunsets in our sea-shore tablernacles, had but begun.
Things were normal, and the Holy Country had been but recently defiled by the alien. The collector, purchasing agent, and specially accredited emissary of museum and publisher were not then in the land.
Yet the art, the artist, and the artisans were there. Gradually one was able to discover the foundries and ateliers, and to ferret out the secrets and learn the curious vocabilary of the handicraftsmen. When familiar with the sword-wearing gentlemen and the intelligent merchants, the appreciative lover of art could carry temptation to their pride and often to their pockets, and thus win many a rare curio.
One found that these high-bred fols were averse to vulgar display, or to what might tempt the tax-collector or the spu - that natural and relentless parasite of Japanese feudalism. There were many causes tending to simplicity of domestic interiors besides poverty. There was the ever-present dread of fire - "the flower of great Yedo" - in which city a day passing without a conglagration was a novelty amounting to a national event. No fire-insurance company existed, and the stream thrown on a blaze by the hand-engines borne on men's shoulders, and filled with buckets and doppers could hardly outrival a Chinese laundryman in the act of sprinkling clothes. Hence, nearly all valuables, and espacially art treasures and heirlooms, were kept insured in the dozo, a fireproof storehouse attached to every dwelling of importance. This fireproof building, made of timber coated with a foot of mud and hard-finish of plaster, contained "hidden treasures of darkness" in the form of lacquer, ivory, crystal, porcelain, pottery, bronze, books, toys, and robes.
The fine-art store, such as one still sees in the inland cities, is a modest affair in one or two rooms, probably half the stock being exposed at one time. The proprietor sits before his brazier, in which a ball or two of the clay - and - charcoal powder smoulders, and will furnish a friendly and gratuitous cup of tea to all callers. He wipes tenderly the crystal you ask to see, and seems personally attached to each of his darling tea-pots, candle-sticks, or pen-holder cases, as to a child. Far from showing any eagerness to sell, the old-time dealer, in what foreigners irreverently dub "curious," appeared loath to part with his wares. A sale seemed to grieve him, despite the thanks and profuse compliments showered on you for honoring his "hut" with your "exalted" presence. There is the richly pictured screen, with a "water-brow mountain" or beetling-precipice-sea-and-ship picture, or "the autumn views of many trees;" the kakémono, or hanging wall-pictures, with poem in caligraphic characters, or with bamboo and stanza; the rare old pottery, with the signature or seald of "Mr. Old Ink" upon it, while the drinking-cup's insription reads, "Everything (litterally, one hundred things) goes just as we please;" while to the discerning aye every shape, design, border-decoration, or figure is suggestive, or even eloquent, of the ideas and lore of Asiatic humanity, of its literature, religion, and interpretation of nature. No art in any land is more symbolic and suggestive than that of Japan, despite the plea of the linguists that the language and people are devoid of imagination of the Aryan standard.
I remember vividly my fist call, and subsequent visits, at a gentleman's house in Fukui, and the contrast. On first entering his zashiki, or parlor, despite its neatness, the delicious Echizen tea, served with exquisite grace by his pretty daughters, and the elegant dress and manners of all present, my amazement at the bareness and seeming poverty was flavored with mild disgust. On a subsequent visit, after tea, the talk ran on art. Presto! the black eyes grleamed, and the host's hands were clapped. "You would really like to see my miserable collection?" was asked. The servant, responsive to the hand-clap, in lieu of a bell, was given the storehouse key, and then disappeared. Soon the mat floor was piled and littered with box, roll, bag, and case. Out of yellow muslin wrappings, silken napkins, gold brocade bags, and crape cloths, issued gems of art, in gold, ivory, crystal, lacquer, porcelain, and bronze, that made me wild with delight. The operation of getting out some of teh host's special treasures reminded me of the process of unwrapping a mummy. One article, with apparently as many skins as properly belong to an onion, was finally resurrected from its sacred darkness, and with amazing reverence laid on the dai, or stand. Shades of Benjamin Franklin! it looked for all the world like his black "two-penny porringer" displaced by his beloved Deborah's china bowl, and immortalized in his autobiography. Had it been put up at auction by my host, verily I should not have bidden, at the highest, beyond a five-cent nickel. That, however, was a historical gem, the pride of his collection; and, I am not sure but he claimed it to have been moulded by Giyoji, who introduced the potter's-wheel, over a millenium ago. The date of its birth in fire, from the kiln, lay back in I know not what age; for the year-periods, so familiar to my host's tongue, had then to my ears about as much meaning as the taps of a drum. Now, the "Flower of Literature," the "Heavenly Peace," "Civilization with Enlightenment," and the other names of the Japanese segments of centuries serve, when rattled off, to awaken at least interest enough to send me to the kindly reference-book. Often have I thus learned that "a bit of old Satsuma, at least five hundred years old," was, as the stamp revealed, decorated in Tokio, which got its name in 1869! while a brinze brazier, catalogued as "three thousand years old," shows the truthful Goroza's mark cut in out own century.
Before leaving my host, I had become axquainted with his tastes and resources, which in native art were ample, and learned a lesson often repeated. Before foreign commerce began, ninetenths of Japan's art treasures were habitually kept out of daylight and locked up in fireproof safes, in which the only thing of iron was the lock and staple.
It was not uncommon, however, for gentlemen to meet together and enjoy the products of local artists and artisans, and to compare notes and criticisms. The unique institution of Cha no yu (tea and hot water), which, probably more than anything else, developed the porcelain industry in the archipelago of Japan, served also as a school for the production of, and education in, native art. China and Japan drink tea, and the starting-point of their fictile art is the tea-cup (to which we barbarians have added a handle) with the cover or lid (which Europeans have turned upside-down, and made into a saucer), even as the rice-bowl is perhaps the original unit of their pottery. In Corea, speaking broadly, no tea is raised or drunk; and Corea has no porcelain, though of old, even as the Arab sailors tell us and her tombs reveal, famous for her pottery. The Cha no yu, or tea-making ceremony, is an elaborate social ritual. It was invented, so it is said, by the great Taiko in the sixteenth century, to turn away the thoughts of his men of war from arms to polite etiquette - two things for which the Japanese have a genius. Perpetual peace was to be kept by means of artistic grace and enthusiasm in æsthetics. This peaceful policy failed of its original purpose, but it gave a mighty impulse to the ceramic art, which was set on a firm basis when Taito's generals invaded Corea and by his orders transferred, not only the Corean potters, but almost the entire national industry to Japan.
In old Japan there were no academies, large ateliers, or picture-sellers, as in Europe. Each painter had his studio in his home, and was assisted by wife, children, pupils, retainers, or relatives; or he went off to spend weeks or months at the monasteries, temples, or feudal mansions, filling orders for patrons. Some of the most famous basked in the sunshine of the imperial court, enjoying showers of gold; while others gained the aureole of immortal fame, roaming, slowly and miserably, from place to place. The schools founded by, and the traditions of, these old masters are still mighty in Japan. Not a few artists who gain a respectable living, and even fame, depend almost entirely on copying from sketches or models handed down from the past. Instead of finding stimulus in improvement, or inspiration in nature, they continually reproduce the same stock of ideas and set of symbols. A friend of mine, calling on a Tokio artist, criticised a peculiar and unnatural treatment of the horse's joints and limbs, asking why the artist did so. "Oh," replied the man of brushes and pigments, with a tone of protest, "the master - always did so."
So far as I know, however, the better class of painters sketch from nature. The freshly plucked spray of blossoms, the potted plant, the bird or insect actually caught and caged, or the real crane in flight or feeding in the rice-field, is their true original. On one occasion, wanting to have some sprays of the deep-sea "glass plant," or Hyalonema mirabilis, so mounted in a lacquered stand that their jewel-like sheen would be visible, I gave an order for a dai, or stand to a gold-lacquerer in Fukui, stating that I wished its design to be a sunrise on the rocks at the sea-side. He at once repaired to Mikuni, the near marine village, and sketched the cliffs, rocks, ocean-waves, and rising sun; after which he reproduced his India-ink sketch in gold and varnish.
The screen is a household article, nearly ubiquitous, and has the advantage of presenting many panels for a series of pictures, such as Heaven, Earth, and Air; Rock, Cloud, and Water; Youth, Middle Live, and Old Age; Deer and Maple, Tiger and Bamboo, Rain and Sparrow, and other associated ideas so dear to the Japanese eye and mind. In the picture on this page the artist's assistants, with mulberry-bark paper and rice-paste, prepare the panels, while the wife is busy on the sheets of silk, and the daughter grinds colors. Taking his place on the floor, without a mall-stick, but with two brushes in his hand, he sketches Spring and Autumn, as typified in the plum-blossoms and full-blown chrysanthemum. Immobility and Motion, shown by rocks and flower, the couplets of Bird and Grass, Moon and Hare, or the triplet Plum, Bamboo, and Pine, quickly appear under his facile brush. The rich costume of the artist and his family, and the general air of comfort and luxury, hardly represent the average historical fact, for most artists were poor. In the old days of feudalism they lived in the daimios' capitals, or clustered in Kioto or Yedo. Now they are most numerous in the modern capital of the mikado, and the most prosperous artists are those who deign to draw designs for decorators, or serve, with a salary, under the manufacturing corporations which are rapidly centralizing art and labor. When, however, an artist is invited out to display his achievements, for a consideration, he dons his best clothes and expects a fair equivalent for his fine phrensy.
The aspects of nature which the Hapanese artist studies lovingly are not like the glacier-polished and drift.deposited landscapes of Northern Europe and America. Volcanic and alluvial formations are most common in this Pacific archipelago, and though the traditions of Chinese and Corean masters away his brush, the Japanese artist reproduces with commendable faithfulness many of the moods of nature. The national tenderness of appreciation, and sentimental interest in nature, as mirrored in ancient poems and belles-lettres, dates from the primeval period, when the Sunrise Land was fresh to the new dwallers amid its wonders. The wrinkled hills, multitudinous valleys, lava-cones, mountain-ranges, waterfalls, and vegetable forms lend easily the lines which can be made to appear in lacquer paintings. In the typical gold-lacquerer's sketch on this page, as furnished by the graphic artist, the peerless Fuji dwarfing into insignificance the thatched cottages, the wild fowls of the air, and the scant cultivation, suggest the sparsely settled regions remote from cities, and tell of solitude - man alone amid nature, and his puny power over her. An art symbol (p. 113), nearly the reverse, narrates its story without words, but in a sufficient language of its own. This is a San-sui picture, having in it, as the term denotes, mountains and water. Nature is still here, but tamed and made man's assistant. The thatched "moon-viewing chamber," or "cottage of outlook," the stone lantern, "to give light during the long dark night," the wicket gate and hedge, the rustic bridge, the Mandarin ducks, or love-birds - emblems of wedded joy, the storks - living prophets of longevity, the smoothly workn paths, the well-curb and rope-bucket, are there, all suggesting man's enjoyment in, and harmony with, nature. Perspectie and Western artistic requirements are sub-ordinated to the form required for the gold-lacquerer's art. With varnish, metal, and color he will translate the India-ink sketch into a superb picture finished in burnished gold.
Based on the graphic and pictorial arts are those arts decorative in which Japan excels. The noblest of these, and of purely native origin and fevelopment, is that of lacquering. The materials for writing, household furnishing, and personal adornment, with articles of civic ceremony and war, furnish the chief fields for the display of the finer artistic achievements; though large surfaces, such as doors, ceilings, frames and panels, vehicles, and even ships, are lacquered. The varnish flows drop by drop from the Rhus vernicifera trees, which are usually planted on soil otherwise worthless, since they are of slow growth. The sap is quite poisonous, and acts on the human system very much as the poison-ivy of our own forests. Americans living in Japan, and ignorant of the properties of fresh lacquer, after handling it, or even staying in the room where mantel-pieces or doors have been treated, soon begin to feel a prickly sensation on the face and hands. The discomfort increasing, the victim finds himself next morning with eyes closed, or nearly so, cuticle harsh, dry, and red, and visage resembling a prize-fighter's fresh from the ring. Many have to take to bed. The Japanese tell a story about the most poisonous sort, saying that three men are required to gather it. After saying their prayers, and bidding their friends farewell, one man rushes at the tree and with a blow of his ace cuts a gash. The second man dashed in with spout and bucket, to tap the trunk. The third, after due wairing, carries the gathered sap away. After prolonged treatment of the gray viscous mass, by agitation in the air, coloring, and processes often secret, the varnish is ready for use. When properly applied, the coating, which is put on wood, metal, and other substances, resists hot and cold water, and most liquids liable to come in contact with household utensils. Wood is the favorite substance employed for the best results in art, and for the most common as well as special uses.
The art dates historically from the seventh century, though tradition assigns its birth to the ages when almanacs, clocks, and writings had not yet arrived from the Asian mainland. Not a few articles now in national or private museums are, by documentary evidence, over one thousand years old. The difference between the best and the cheapest ware is manifest to the trained yee at once, while Father Time takes especial delight in showing the vanity of imitation, and the abiding honor of good workmanship. The baser sort, made by the scamp workman who dislikes trouble, by the cheat, the prison-labor contractor, or the honest Cheap John, has from one to three coats laid on the wood, or other basic material, which has been primed, or covered with rice paste, persimmon juice, or Mino paper, and is finished with or without polishing. The finer and costlier grades have from five to fifty coats, with an amazing amount of grinding, polishing, drying, and manipulation between applications. By a strange paradox lacquer must dry in dampness, else it will run and stick. Hence in every Urushi-ya there must be a closed cupboard of rough wood well moistened or even saturated with water. The coating dries more quickly in summer than in winter, and the best drying is done within a narrow range of temperature.
A lacquerer's workshop, once provided with the graphic artist's designs and the prepared sap, is very simple in equipment. The decorator traces, with a fine brush made of rat's-hair, an outline of the subject on the reverse side of the design. This may be the wild-goose and the autumn grass, the ka-cho (flower and bird), bamboo and moonlight, Fuji-yama, peony, landscape, or marine view. For this rough sketch he uses lacquer, which he heats over a hot charcoal fire to keep it dry. Laying it, while wet, on the surface of the tray or box, he rubs the dry side with a spatula of whalebone, and is usually able to get twenty impressions from the one outline, which he has kept damp by holding it over the fire. In real gold lacquer the virgin dust from the mines is used; but usually silver, tin, or alloy dust is liberally employed. In the cheap varieties the metallic powder is mixed with lacquer, and applied with a brush, as seen in the upper picture on this page. Here, the artist, with hare'-hair brush, holding his little palette on the back of his left hand, is filling out the pattern. The small boy or apprentice is grinding and polishing with camellia-wood charcoal, ground whetstone, or deer-horn powder, the tool being a charcoal stick, or hard, smooth stone. The damp closet for drying has on its shelves articles in various stages of completion.
In old feudal days, when nearly every daimio, or lord of an important fief, had his cour-lacquerer, a set of household furniture and toilet utensils was part of the dowry of a noble lady. On the birth of a daughter it was common for the lacquer artist to begin the making of a mirror-case, a poem washing-bowl, a cabinet, a clothes-rach, or a chest of drawers, often occupying from one to five whole years on a single article. An inro, or pill-box, might require several years for perfectin, though small enough to go into a fob. By the time the young lady was marriageable her outfit in lacquer was superb. Of the twenty-eight most famous lacquer artists of Japan, the majority flourished in Yedo, whre the wealth of art in this line of achievement was, up to the time of the abolition of the compulsory residence of the feudal lords, simply amazing. Fire, civil war, the dissolution of feudalism, and, most of all, an entirely new knowledge of the value of time, have placed the old art almostamong those said to be "lost."
Nearly all the most famous lacquerers of Tokio are now very old men. Watanabe Tosen, seven years ago, spent many months in finishing for the empress a tobacco-box, ten by six and eight inces in dimensions; but the average workman now cares more for the making of money than for fame, while the old spur of loyealty no more provokes to noble achievement. Lacquerers now earn from twenty cents to one dollar and a quarter a day. If, however, one is willing to pay and to wait, it is stoutly affirmed that as good products as those made a century ago can still be obtained. He who gives an order for such works as those which, after the Vienna Exposition, endured scathless a fourteen months' baptism in salt water by the wreck of the French steamer Nil, or which, reduced to ashes, will yield nuggets of gold, must have patience and a long purse.
The Japanese artisans in old times, when society was divided into four classes, or eight grades, ranked socially higher than the merchant, though lower than the farmer. Each class and subdivision wore a distinctive dress. In a street of Tokio or Fukui the variety of costume made a scene of wonderful picturesqueness. Sumptuary laws required the waring of these class uniforms, and the herediraty habit of centuries even yet obtains. Instead of the flowing robes of the samurai, or swordwearers, the artisans wore very tight oneseamed leg-casings of dyed cotton-cloth, straw sandals, costing less than a cent a pair, loose cotton coats, and no head-covering. While Corea is the land of hats, the Japanese go bareheaded. The nobleman donned a paper shell, or "brick," for ceremony, the peasantry roofing their scalps with umbrella-like disks, resting by two pads on the cranium, to to keep off sun or rain; while in winter anyone might wrap his head in kerchiefs for warmth. A cap or hat, to enclise the scalp from forehead to occiput, was, until recently, unknown. The mechanic used a fan, or his hand, to keep off the sun's rays, tied a kerchief over his noddle to avoid dust, or knotted his "hand-wiper" over his forehead during hot or heavy work. On coat lappels and back, in figures made white by a mordant in dyeing, the initial letters of his name, trade, or guild were ostentatiously visible. In his bosom was his wallet, and from his belt hung his supplies for draughting ans smoking. Flint, steel, and tinder in one chatelaine bag, pipe and tobacco-pouch in the other, were fastened to a nétsuké or toggle of ivory or wood, thrust up under and above his girdle. Brush-pen, wet cotton wad of ink, and a dab of paste were stowed in another belt-case.
Among the lower classes cotton in winter, and cuticle in summer made the chief varieties in costume. The betto, or horse-boys, wore loin belts, cotton socks, and a tattoo painting on back and limbs. Unlucky hamblers, whom I have seen on a January day, when the water froze in the sun, when stark naked, and required to be fed at the start and finish of their work as palanquin-porters, else gambling would go on under my nose, and I be left in the lurch on a midnight journey of haste. Such sights are very rare now. The superficial area of exposed cuticle has been greatly curtailed since the introduction of foreign vices and morals, and the erection of cotton and woollen mills.
Japan now manufactures and exports, annually, artistic products to the value of millions; labor and skill are more centralized, and manufacturing methods gradually approach those of the West. In old Japan, clay-worker, moulder, baker, and decorator were usually in one room, and often were one person. The average "establishment" was a father and son, a husband and wife, or a small coterie of relatives living under a single roof. Now a subdivision of labor reigns, processes are carried on under several roofs, and the artists or decorators cluster at the capital.
It is even common now to dig the clay at some one of the two hundred and fifty beds known, load it on junks, and ship to favored manufacturing places, where it is ground, beaten, levigated, kneaded, moulded, and the biscuit fired and glazed. Ozawa has given us a picture of such a pottery, with one of a series of chamber-furnaces, which are usually built up the slope of a hill, so that the heat may ascend, and the highest temperatire to be in the uppermost oven. The raw material, after beating ground, stamped, and washed, is further treated with hoe, trowel, and basket-sieve.
The finest sort is beaten with from three to six thousand strokes of a club, so as to be fully tempered for the wheel, or for those articles which are built rather than moulded. When ready for the baking, the first for the biscuit or dry clay, the second for the glaze, a peculiar kind of charcoal is used, and the fire is kindled from a spark struck with flint and steel, which every smoker carries at his belt.
In the stanza translated by Mr. Edward Greey, some poet has written:
The potter moulds the clay upon the wheel,
And behold a jar valuet at a few cents;
The artist takes his brush, decorates the ware,
And lo! the piece is worth the ransom of a great warrior.
These porcelain painters rank among the highest-class artisans, and as shown truthfully by Ozawa, live and dress well. They are intelligentbrain-workers, as well as experts with the brush. Of course most of the finest designs, and all the original ones, are drawn by the pictorial artist, and the decorators work from the sketches furnished them. In the manufacture by bulk and contract, however, the usual stock in trade of Crane and Stream, Rock and Sea-waves, Foam-drops and Petrels, Cloud and Dragon, Chinese poetry, idealized landscapes, or the repertoire of graphic designs in figure, are followed by rote. Artists know by heart, and have known for many generations, these standard art symbols, which are regocnized and interpreted even by children. Streaking and banding in gold or color are done on a wheel turned by the fingers. For teapots, either of Corean, Chinese, or Japanese shape or model, a great variety of pigment is used.
Japan's porcelain and pottery industry is rapidly approaching, and will soon outstrip in importance, her mining operations. Very little money has been sunk in handling or beautifying clay, while the millions lost in tantalizing the face and disturbing the bowels of the earth are many. The best and surest benefit of the geological survey of Japan has been, and will be, the prevention of reckless mining. Fool's hold and its namesakes, and black shale that is always just on the point of yielding coal, but never quite does it, are as plentiful among the mikado's subjects as among the voters in America. "The total value from all mines and quarries in 1878 did not exceed five millions of dollars," while the product of all the potters at present cannot be far behind this amount; in 1875 it was three millions of dollars. The sen, or cent, is the unit of the day's wage. Miners and clay-diggers get from ten to twenty, clay-washers and mixers from twenty to thirty, kiln-men and bakers from forty to sixty, wheel-moulders from fifty to seventy, decorators who do conventional and routine painting, such as birds, flowers, and set symbols, fifty to seventy-five cents a day. The better classes of painters, who are really fine and original artists, command their own price. Since clothing is usually cotton, of a single thickness in summer, and wadded in winter, and covering but little underwear at any time, and since rice, the main staple of diet, costs from two or three cents a pound, the struggle of existence is not severe. Most mechanics have a little balance agains a rainy day, and the shopkeeper and merchant holds from fifty to five hundred yen (dollars) against fire or funeral. The treasure formerly hid in the garden or under the foundation-stone of the house is now diverted to the excellent postal savings-banks recently established. In case of the birth of triplets, or survival beyond the age of seventy, the government ekes out support by a pension.
The critic and historian who is yet to write the story of art in Japan, from pre-historic time to this twentieth year of Meiji (civilization in enlightened peace), will discriminate nicely between what is borrowed and what is original. The folding fan, modellet on a bat's wing, the arts of lacquering, sword-making, cloisonné on porcelain, and some of the methods of decorating faiance are of native origin; but of bronze casting and the secrets of alloy, niello, and metallic work, tell-tale philology often betrays a Corean, Chinese, Persian, or Indian origin. Bronze is "Chinese metal," and some of the names of tools and processes, as I learned them in the shops, are but mispronounced Corean. Beni, or Benigari (rouge), seems to point to Bengal, just as briki, for "blick," is only the Dutch word for tin in the mouth of the man who eschews the letter l. The shapes and models of old temple ornament and flower vases point unmistakably to Persian origin, even as the native annals report Japanese embassies meeting those from Persoa at the court of the Middle Kingdom. Braziers, incence-holders, water-tanks, standing lanterns, memorial tablets, and tomb-doors give abundance of opportunity to the bronzzist to show his skill in handling masses of metal. The images of Great Buddha at Nara, Kamakura, and elsewhere, show what Cellinis of Japan can achieve in colossal works of art.
One could scarcely imagine a purer interpretation of the calm repose of Nirvana than that of the work of the metallurgist Ono. Cast six centuries ago, and surviving the destruction by tidal waves of the massive temples reared to enclose it, the figure stands out under the blue canopu of the sky, in sunshine and cloud, at dawn-light and even-glow, sublime in conception and superb in achievement. Fifty feet high, and eighty-seven feet in circumference, the mass became unity through the brazing together of many sheets of upright layers of bronze, until the crown was set, and the whole finished with file work. As English chaplain, in writing the epitaph of a British officer slain near by, spelled its name "Die Boots." In this triumph of phonetics the holy man was not referring to American frontier methods of dying, formerly more in vogue than now; nor to the feet of the image, guiltless of leather or covering. He wished merely to demonstrate his knowledge of the orthoepy of Dai Butsù, or Great Buddha.
Unique and unapproachable as is the artistic interpretation of Nirvana, by means of bronze, in the Kamakura image just described, that at Nara surpasses it in size and quality of metal. It is seven feet higher, and the alloy is shakudo, which is a black bronze made of copper, silver, and gold. Eight successive castings were attempted before success was attained; but finally Kimi-maro, the grandson of a Corean, succeeded, and in A.D. 749 the image was completed. What vicissitudes the idols of Japan have suffered may be imagined from the fact that this, the tallest of them all, has lost its head no fewer than three times. Once it tumbled off, and twice the fires kindled in civil war melted it to liquid. For over a century it remained in the condition of the unroofed idols so common in Japan, and to which the natives apply the irreverent name of "wet gods." At present, when Buddhism is shrivelling up into hopeless senility, the number of images of Buddga which, after long repose in the island empire, are transmigrating through American stewpan, kettles, soda-water tanks, and shops' coppers is amazing.
The casting of a public monument in situ, such as a memorial lantern, column, or Buddha, is usually a public and outdoor affair, attended with festal hilarity. Furnaces, bellows, casting-pots, tools, and appliances are brought to, or prepared at, the spot, and the details are watched by holiday crowds. In the picture by Ozawa we have the ordinary process of melting and pouring the bronze which is to be finished for modern articles of export. For the fusing of larger masses, and in more ambitious projects, a form of bellows that suggests old-fashioned suction fire-engines is used. Then from four to twenty men oscillate the see-saw air-box that drives a furious blast through the single or triple tuyères.
For the finer statue, or bas-relief work, a mould of clay and wax is made, dried, and heated to melt the wax and leave space. On pouring in the fused alloy, what remains of the wax is melted, fired and lost (cire perdu). The picture on p. 117 introduces us to the finishing room, where the burrs left on the casting are removed, the filing is done, and the surfaces are polished, or made ready for silvering, fire-gilding, inlaying, or coloring. Turning on the lathe is deftly done, though in its use half the power applied is lost. A glance at this rude wooden machine will show that the man who turns the shaft with a strap pulls both backward and forward, so that the brassturner holding the chisel must actually wait during every alternate revolution for the article set on the chuck to come round again right side up. Yet despite this crude form of lathe, in which fifty per cet. of power is lost, and but few revolutions made per minute, superb work is turned off. The western handicraftsman will note that the pump-dtill, and possibly other tools supposed to be European in origin, are common to his Nipponese brother.
On late years decoration, the archaic patterns of Corean and Chinese traditional origin, and casts in the mould, have gone much out of fashion, while inlaying, niello, and zo-gan, or gold and silver raised work, are more in vogue. Ten years ago no fewer than half a million Japanese men and boys wore, as articles of daily dress no more to be dispensed with in public than a coat, a long and a short sword. On the hilts, handles, and scabbards were embedded or encrusted from two to twenty ornaments, all of which were wrought in precious metals, and in the highest art of the metallurgist and jeweller. When after a few months' gradual disuse, and the sudden issue of an imperial edict, "like perspiration, never to go back," swords disappeared, the market was glutted at once with an amazing stock of kingin, or sword jewels. By a happy thought these gens of art were applied to bronzes, and the Centennial Exposition at Philadelphia saw some of the best of those first made. Yet these exquisite pieces of jewelry, as well as those now turned out in forms more suited to Wester tastes, by the goldsmiths of Tokio, are made in a space and with appliances that seem ridiculous. With the floor for a seat, at low benches, and with home-made tools, the raw material is melted, the sheet metal planished, annealed, or soldared, and the chains and ornaments are filed or polished. Instead of a draw-bench for wire-making, the floor, the hand and feet, a pair of pincers, and perforated plate constitute the machinery; while the coloring, plating, and acid processes are carried on in a few pots and jars, and the fire-gilding is done without hood or covering, often to the detriment of the health of the workmen.
The boys seen in nearly all the places of skilled labor suggest what is the fact, that apprentices begin to learn their trades usually much earlier than in our country, so that when majority is attained the mastery of the craft is thorough. Another striking feature of the Japanese system is that of heredity. Skill runs in family lines. Not a few of the famous artisans of the present decade are descendants in the ninth, tenth, and even twentieth generation, of the founder of the establishment. I once employed a carpenter in Fukui, who was proud of his ancestry of wood-workers through twenty-seven generations; and the temple records show such boasting to be true, though often adoption interrupts the actual blood line. At a paper-maker's establishment in Awotabi, in Echizen, I dined with the proprietor, whose fathers first established the industry a millenium ago, the national history showing also that the Coreans, before the ninth century of our era, visited the place.
Next to Buddhism, the mother and nurse of fine arts, feudalism was the special patron and stimulus of the Japanese higher artisan. A glance at the arms and armor of a captain of old Japan's chivalry, such as Minamoto Yoshitsuné, shows how his full equipment summoned most of the fine arts to the service of the soldier. The harness of hide and chain armor, silk and steel, brocade and lacquer; the helmet and breast-plate of chased gold and silver; the dragon-insignia of cast and chiselled metal; the silken banner, woven, embroidered, or painted with the ancestral blazon; the polished triumphs of the quiver and arrow maker's art, the doublet bow of wood and cane; the swordrack from the gold-lacquerer's hand; the bear-skin shoes and tiger skin-sheath, the shark-hide grip, and curiously wrought dirk scabbard made a panoply to which the masters of many arts contributed, when they laid all forms of animal and vegetable life and mineral products under tribute. Crowning all other crafts was the most noble and most honored of the sword-maker, who, by the help of the gods, presided over the birth of "the samurai's soul" - the bright unsullied blade of Yamato.
Noe, though the old motive and environment have gone, and Japan is becoming modern, civilized, and commercial, may we not hope that the hereditary manual skill, physical adaption, and real artistic impulse to translate beauty into art may for centuries yet be regnant in Everlasting Great Japan.