Unbeaten Tracks in Japan, by Isabella L. Bird

Letter 22

A Silk Factory — Employment for Women — A Police Escort — The Japanese Police Force.

KUBOTA, July 23.

My next visit was to a factory of handloom silk-weavers, where 180 hands, half of them women, are employed. These new industrial openings for respectable employment for women and girls are very important, and tend in the direction of a much-needed social reform. The striped silk fabrics produced are entirely for home consumption.

Afterwards I went into the principal street, and, after a long search through the shops, bought some condensed milk with the “Eagle” brand and the label all right, but, on opening it, found it to contain small pellets of a brownish, dried curd, with an unpleasant taste! As I was sitting in the shop, half stifled by the crowd, the people suddenly fell back to a respectful distance, leaving me breathing space, and a message came from the chief of police to say that he was very sorry for the crowding, and had ordered two policemen to attend upon me for the remainder of my visit. The black and yellow uniforms were most truly welcome, and since then I have escaped all annoyance. On my return I found the card of the chief of police, who had left a message with the house-master apologising for the crowd by saying that foreigners very rarely visited Kubota, and he thought that the people had never seen a foreign woman.

I went afterwards to the central police station to inquire about an inland route to Aomori, and received much courtesy, but no information. The police everywhere are very gentle to the people,- -a few quiet words or a wave of the hand are sufficient, when they do not resist them. They belong to the samurai class, and, doubtless, their naturally superior position weighs with the heimin. Their faces and a certain hauteur of manner show the indelible class distinction. The entire police force of Japan numbers 23,300 educated men in the prime of life, and if 30 per cent of them do wear spectacles, it does not detract from their usefulness. 5600 of them are stationed at Yedo, as from thence they can be easily sent wherever they are wanted, 1004 at Kiyoto, and 815 at Osaka, and the remaining 10,000 are spread over the country. The police force costs something over 400,000 pounds annually, and certainly is very efficient in preserving good order. The pay of ordinary constables ranges from 6 to 10 yen a month. An enormous quantity of superfluous writing is done by all officialdom in Japan, and one usually sees policemen writing. What comes of it I don’t know. They are mostly intelligent and gentlemanly-looking young men, and foreigners in the interior are really much indebted to them. If I am at any time in difficulties I apply to them, and, though they are disposed to be somewhat de haut en bas, they are sure to help one, except about routes, of which they always profess ignorance.

On the whole, I like Kubota better than any other Japanese town, perhaps because it is so completely Japanese and has no air of having seen better days. I no longer care to meet Europeans — indeed I should go far out of my way to avoid them. I have become quite used to Japanese life, and think that I learn more about it in travelling in this solitary way than I should otherwise.

I. L. B.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31