A Rhapsody on Japan

Author
Publisher
Volume
3
Issue
4
Date
July 1898
Page Range
13
Document Type
Exhibit
Genre
Work

A Rhapsody on Japan

Japan is not a land where men need pray, for ‘tis itself divine, sang the poet Hitomara more than a thousand years ago, and another clever Japanese writer said: Holding the brush of infinite genius the Creator began to work upon his canvas—the universe. A touch of his finger produced land and sea, beautiful and sublime. When his hand moved on, there in the farthest east of the world a land was raised out of water. I know not why, but the painter favored this land with a special color. ‘Japan’ they call it—surnamed ‘The Land of Sunrise.’
Thereafter, the sun smiled more broadly over that fair island—caressed and bathed it in a perpetual glow, until the skies, and the waters which in their clearness mirrored its glory, became as huge rainbows of ever changing and brilliant colors. Color is surely contagious; for the little birds that sang deliriously wore coats which dazzled the eye; the trees and foliage, the grass and flowers were tinged with a beauty found nowhere else on earth, and even the human inhabitants caught the spirit of the color queen and fashioned their clothes to harmonize with their surroundings; so also the artists of Japan painted pictures that had no shadows, and the people built their houses and colored them in accord with nature.
There is a bay called Matsushima, on the northeastern coast of Japan. Countless rocks of huge size and form are scattered in it, and these rocks are covered with pine trees which were planted by the hand of God. Unnamed flowers bloom also on these rocks, and burn their surface with flaring colors. It may be that the rocks are more nutritious than the earth itself, for the tall pines that take their roots in them seem more graceful and delicate than those found on land, and the flowers were more fragrant and lovely as the flowers of a fairyland dream. About eight miles from the northern shore, where rests a little secluded village, towers Mt. Tomi, and it is from this point that Matsushima can be seen best. In winter the pines are covered with snow, which gleam dazzlingly from the reflection of the sunshine on the eastern hills. Surely if I attempt to describe such a paradise I will do it cruel injustice.
Amano-Hashidate is a narrow strip of land, west of the seaport Miazu. It furnishes a passage from shore to shore, save in one place, where the waters have burst through, and ferry boats ply back and forth. The beach is covered with pure white sand, mingled with which are pebbles and shells of varied color and size. Can you imagine a natural bridge, made up of graceful pine trees, intensely green in comparison with the whiteness of the sands which are washed by the waters and the swish of the willows, spanning an expanse of blue green waters and gilded with glory by the passion of an oriental sun? Such is Hashidate—nature’s princess of bridges, beautiful as the face of a sleeping babe.
Surrounded by five lakes in the central part of the main island stands the most beautiful and highest mountain in Japan, Mt. Fuji-Yama. Snow clad and majestic it towers—its lofty peaks meeting the rosy beams of the vivid sky. Its slopes are nobly and symmetrically curved. It rises to the noble height of 12,490 feet. I cannot tell why, but there is something in this mountain, in its silent grandeur and majesty, which appeals to the best in us; which makes us hold our breaths in awe as though in the presence of a deity, and which inspires us with a calm and peace past understanding. Alone it stands, surrounded by its blue lakes, clear-cut against the bluer skies. Seasons come and go, each one adding a grander and calmer beauty; earthquakes have forced smaller hills at its base, and volcanoes have crashed through its peaks, but the grand old monarch has stood firmly through all; inspiring all who approach it with an infinite sense of longing and desire. What is there in this mountain which has baffled the tongue and pen of poet and singer alike, forcing the acknowledgment that silence, eloquent and profound, is the sole tribute?
Perhaps in no other spot on the earth do the flowers bloom with such extravagance and abandon as in Japan—the home of the flowers. In April the hills and fields are tinged with cherry blossoms. These sweet, feathery flowers are a source of never ending wonder and pleasure to the lover of nature, and ‘tis with a sigh of regret and pain we watch them fade, even when to make room for the giddy blazing azalea or the wild blue wistaria. But the month of October, although considered a desolate month in Japan, because the gods are said to be absent, is nevertheless surely the most beautiful of all. October, the month of the kiku—or chrysanthemum. Greatest beauty is said to come just before decay. October is the month preceding the death of the flowers, the month when one is filled with a joy of repletion that is akin to pain. What sight more beautiful than the dying rays of an October sun in an oriental sky! How it fills the soul with a rapture of ecstasy till we wait and watch for the moon to rise, and replace with its quiet splendor the wildness of the dying sun.

People Mentioned

Jean Lee Cole

Jean Lee Cole is Senior Consultant on The Winnifred Eaton Archive, author of The Literary Voices of Winnifred Eaton: Redefining Ethnicity and Authenticity (2002), co-editor of A Japanese Nightingale and Madame Butterfly: Two Orientalist Texts (2002, with Maureen Honey), and editor of the original Winnifred Eaton Digital Archive (2004). She is Professor of English at Loyola University Maryland.

Greg Murray

Greg Murray is the Director of Digital Initiatives at Princeton Theological and has a MA in Literature and Religion from University of Virginia. He assisted in the development of the original Winnifred Eaton Digital Archive created by Jean Lee Cole.

Ethan Gruber

Ethan Gruber is the Director of Data Science at the American Numismatic Society and has an M.A. in Art and Architectural History from University of Virginia. He assisted in the development of the original Winnifred Eaton Digital Archive created by Jean Lee Cole.

John Ivor Carlson

John Ivor Carlson is the Digital Production Editor at Yale University Press and has a PhD in Medieval Literature from University of Virginia. He assisted in the development of the original Winnifred Eaton Digital Archive created by Jean Lee Cole.

Jolie Sheffer

Jolie Sheffer is Associate Professor in English and American Culture Studies and the Director of the Institute for the Study of Culture and Society at Bowling Green State University. She was a research assistant on the original Winnfired Eaton Digital Archive created by Jean Lee Cole.

Jordan Taylor

Jordan Taylor is a teacher of Upper School Humanities, advisor, and UPenn Mentor at St. Anne’s-Belfield School. He has a M.A. in English Literature from University of Virginia. He assisted in the development of the original Winnifred Eaton Digital Archive created by Jean Lee Cole.

Winnifred Eaton

  • Born: August 21, 1875
  • Died: April 08, 1954
See the Biographical Timeline for biographical information on Winnifred Eaton.

Pseudonym used in this text

Joey Takeda

Joey Takeda is the Technical Director of The Winnifred Eaton Archive and the User Interface Developer at the Digital Humanities Innovation Lab (Simon Fraser University). He is also an M.A. student in English at the University of British Columbia where his research focuses on Indigenous and diasporic Canadian literature; he is currently completing a digital edition of His Royal Nibs.

Mary Chapman

Mary Chapman is the Director of The Winnifred Eaton Archive, a Professor of English, and Academic Director of the Public Humanities Hub at University of British Columbia. She is the author of the award-winning monograph Making Noise, Making News: Suffrage Print Culture and US Modernism (Oxford UP) and of numerous articles about American literature and women writers. She has also edited Becoming Sui Sin Far: Early Fiction, Journalism and Travel Writing by Edith Maude Eaton (McGill-Queen’s UP) and published essays on the Eaton sisters in American Quarterly, MELUS, Legacy, Canadian Literature, and American Periodicals. Her current research project is a microhistory of the Eaton family. For more information, see http://faculty.arts.ubc.ca/mchapman/.