Unbeaten Tracks in Japan, by Isabella L. Bird

Letter 42

Pleasant Last Impressions — The Japanese Junk — Ito Disappears — My Letter of Thanks.

HAKODATE, YEZO, September 14, 1878.

This is my last day in Yezo, and the sun, shining brightly over the grey and windy capital, is touching the pink peaks of Komono-taki with a deeper red, and is brightening my last impressions, which, like my first, are very pleasant. The bay is deep blue, flecked with violet shadows, and about sixty junks are floating upon it at anchor. There are vessels of foreign rig too, but the wan, pale junks lying motionless, or rolling into the harbour under their great white sails, fascinate me as when I first saw them in the Gulf of Yedo. They are antique-looking and picturesque, but are fitter to give interest to a picture than to battle with stormy seas.

Most of the junks in the bay are about 120 tons burthen, 100 feet long, with an extreme beam, far aft, of twenty-five feet. The bow is long, and curves into a lofty stem, like that of a Roman galley, finished with a beak head, to secure the forestay of the mast. This beak is furnished with two large, goggle eyes. The mast is a ponderous spar, fifty feet high, composed of pieces of pine, pegged, glued, and hooped together. A heavy yard is hung amidships. The sail is an oblong of widths of strong, white cotton artistically “PUCKERED,” not sewn together, but laced vertically, leaving a decorative lacing six inches wide between each two widths. Instead of reefing in a strong wind, a width is unlaced, so as to reduce the canvas vertically, not horizontally. Two blue spheres commonly adorn the sail. The mast is placed well abaft, and to tack or veer it is only necessary to reverse the sheet. When on a wind the long bow and nose serve as a head-sail. The high, square, piled-up stern, with its antique carving, and the sides with their lattice-work, are wonderful, together with the extraordinary size and projection of the rudder, and the length of the tiller. The anchors are of grapnel shape, and the larger junks have from six to eight arranged on the fore-end, giving one an idea of bad holding-ground along the coast. They really are much like the shape of a Chinese “small-footed” woman’s shoe, and look very unmanageable. They are of unpainted wood, and have a wintry, ghastly look about them. 22

I have parted with Ito finally today, with great regret. He has served me faithfully, and on most common topics I can get much more information through him than from any foreigner. I miss him already, though he insisted on packing for me as usual, and put all my things in order. His cleverness is something surprising. He goes to a good, manly master, who will help him to be good and set him a virtuous example, and that is a satisfaction. Before he left he wrote a letter for me to the Governor of Mororan, thanking him on my behalf for the use of the kuruma and other courtesies.

I. L. B.

22 The duty paid by junks is 4s. for each twenty-five tons, by foreign ships of foreign shape and rig 2 pounds for each 100 tons, and by steamers 3 pounds for each 100 tons.

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