LETTER FROM JAPAN.—Number .
Ke Alaula: Aloha oe:
When the postal ship arrived, I received two issues of Ke Alaula, January’s and February’s. It made my heart happy, receiving these quick-winged messengers who flew above the great waves of the Pacific Ocean and reaching my home here on the shores of Asia. According to the words of Proverbs 25:25, “Like cold water to a weary soul is good news from a distant land.”
About the Japanese Language.
Our great task at hand is learning the language of this land; and we have begun. Some of the short words, the pronunciation is the same as in Hawaiian, but the translation is different. Here are some of those words. Hai aku [Hayaku]; this is the meaning; hurry up. Kani [Kane], a bell, something that sounds. Hookano [Hoka no], a different thing. Hito, a person. Hookano hito, a different person. Dogs are called ino [inu]. Chickens are called tori. Sweet potato is called imo.
The Gospel of John was translated into Japanese by a missionary who came to this land before, and we are learning to read from the first chapter. Chapter 1. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Here it is in Japanese: “Hajime ni Michi wa ari, Michi wa Kami to tomo ni ari, Michi wa Kami nari.” When they write it however, they write in strange letters mixed with Chinese characters. The people study reading intensely. Perhaps more than half of the people can read.
About the food.
At this time, the fields are filled with wheat and oil producing fruit, which is a tiny fruit like that of the black mustard. In a month, the wheat will be mature, then rice will be planted. That is the main staple of the people. We have potatoes, sweet potatoes, peas, beans [pine?], and oranges. Their oranges are different, they are not large and sweet like those of Hawaii, they are small and bland.
They also have fruit of cold lands: peaches, pears, and cherries. Bananas, coconuts, guavas, pandanus, figs, and mangoes are not to be found here.
Here is something strange eaten here. Large bamboo, what we call ohe hawai, is found in abundance here. When the new shoots begin to sprout, like a banana sprout, they harvest it to eat. It is boiled in a pot, and this bamboo shoot is good if it is tried.
On Child rearing.
These are a people who love and are compassionate towards their children. The children of the wealthy are well taken care of. When they are little, eight days after birth, the head of the child is shaved smooth. Some leave some hair circling the edge of the child’s head. It is customary to shave the top of the head until they are elderly. When the child begins to walk, they are fitted with sandals. The sandals of the Japanese are just under the feet and are fastened with with straps going up from between the space between the big toes. The sandals used for nice days are made of finely-woven grass. On rainy and muddy days, they wear wooden sandals fastened below the feet with straps. When they enter the house, the sandals are removed.
In large cities, there are poor who beg for money. They are clothed in rags, and when looking at them some of them seem to be suffering from starvation. They beg with soft voices and heads bowed down, “Please may I have a few cents.” These beggars are found in large numbers at places of worship. Seeing their suffering breaks one’s heart. This is something not seen in Hawaii, someone dying of starvation.
This is a nation very skilled at farming. The lowlands are full of plants. The places left unfarmed are the cliffs and very dry areas. The land is not plowed, but is only worked with a hoe. Farms are well cared for, and are not left to go wild. They watch vigilantly and clear weeds with their hoe, when they begin to grow. They pay much attention to fertilizing the land to fortify the soil so that much fruit is produced.
Night soil, cow feces, horse feces, and waste vegetation are kept and placed on the farmland to fertilize the soil. In this month of May, the farms as far as the eye can see are green and beautiful. The wheat is long, and the ears of wheat are forming, the yellow flowers are blossomed, the rice sprouts are beginning to be grown, sprinkled out all crowded, to be planted in the rice paddies. Here is something else I’ve seen of rice cultivation. The rice farmer writes a prayer to the God of farmers, this prayer is rolled about a small stick, and the stick is then stuck into the paddy where the rice seeds are spread, and this prayer is left there until the rice grows. This custom by the idol-worshiping Japanese is like what I read in Hawaiian History about the prayers of the fishermen and farmers of the ancient times in our land of Hawaii. How pitiful is the ignorance of those who don’t know of the true God.
On Rivers and Reservoirs.
This nation knows the great value of water, and water is well cared for. Large reservoirs are made in the uplands, and by rivers. These reservoirs were made in times past with much labor. Canals are dug on sides of cliffs where water flows. In rainy periods, the reservoirs are filled to supply water to the rice paddies on dry periods. Some of these reservoirs are acres wide. The land will not lack fruit because of the great water reserved for dry periods.
With aloha, me,
O. H. Gulick.
Kobe, Japan, May 18, 1871.
(Alaula, 7/1871, p. 16)