From Tideway to Tideway III

The Edge of the East


(notes by Alastair Wilson, drawing on the work of the ORG Editors)



This was the third of the “Tideway” articles. It was published in:

  • The Times (London), on 2nd July 1892, some six weeks after the previous letter
  • The CMG (Lahore), 9th and 16th July 1892
  • The New York Sun, 3rd and 17th July 1892

The letter

This letter describes the arrival of the Kiplings in Yokohama on 17th April 1892 (Carrie Kipling’s diary), after a fourteen day journey across the north Pacific from Vancouver. They spend a pleasant time away from the tourists, enjoying the harmony of old Japan in the springtime, which Rudyard had delighted in three years before on his way back to England from India. (See From Sea to Sea Letters XI to XXI). They visit the great Buddha of Kamakura, and Rudyard ponders on the Buddha’s teaching that the world is illusion, a theme he later returns to in Kim (1901).

Notes on the Text

[Page 33, line 5] An English man-of-war . … blue-white British warships on tropical stations at this time were painted white: it helped to keep the interior of the ship cool in the days before forced ventilation and air conditioning.

[Page 33, line 11] and that was our fairy craft there would have been few, if any, docks or wharfs at Yokohama then: ships would anchor off, and passengers would land in shore boats, generically referred to as sampans, though that is a Chinese, rather than Japanese, word.

[Page 34, line 12] jinrickshaw a two-wheeled passenger chair, with a collapsible hood, pulled by a running man. In those days, the eastern equivalent of the Hansom cab.

[Page 34, line 20] Tower of Babel see Genesis 11,1-9, which describes how God, affronted by the prideful creation of a great tower, afflicted men with diversity of language so that they would not understand one other’s speech.

[Page 34, lines 23-27] Great is the smell of the East … will endure till the railways are dead. This Editor wonders whether Kipling would say the same of industrialised Japan. Elsewhere, that smell doubtedly does remain.

[Page 34, line 33] another land a few thousand miles further West he refers to India, of course.

[Page 35, lines 1/2] The globe-trotting, millionaires anxious to spend money, with a hose This phrase, it is suggested, has been badly punctuated. This Editor believed it should read: “The globe-trotting millionaires, anxious to spend money with a hose, …’ .

“Globe-trotting”, tourism for tourism’s sake, was a new phenomenon, made possible by the railway and the steamer. In Europe, Thomas Cook led the way, with the first tours from Britain to continental Europe in 1855. By the 1890s, Cook was a name known world-wide, catering for the middle and upper classes.

[Page 35, line 10] magenta a red-purple colour, from a new dye so named because it was discovered shortly after the battle of Magenta, near Milan, in June 1859, in the Italian War of Independence against the Austrians.

It became the colour of the Paris fashions in the autumn of 1859.

[Page 35, line 10] blue-vitriol vitriolic acid is an old name for sulphuric acid (which is colourless). Crystals of copper sulphate, a salt from that acid, are a deep blue colour, and are known as ‘blue vitriol’. Kipling here means the colour.

[Page 35, line 11] Murray the London publishing house of John Murray, founded in 1768, produced guide-books before Baedeker: they were indispensible to the globe-trotter. John Murray are still in business as a division of Hodder-Headline.

[Page 35, line 12] copperas ferrous sulphate, or green vitriol: so a strong green colour.

[Page 35, line 13] e pluribus unum literally, the Latin means ‘out of many things, one thing’. As the motto of the United States of America, it originally referred to the combination of the thirteen states into one nation.

[Page 35, line 26] akimbo with hands on hips, and elbows projecting outwards. The figure, seen in silhouette, resembles a triangle on top of a vertical stem, not unlike the silhouette of a pine tree. (Even the Oxford English Dictionary can give no derivation for this word.)

[Page 36, line 14] ridged the rice-fields rise in a series of small terraces, like a succession of small ridges on the hill-side.

[Page 36, line 18] Garden of Eden Where Adam and Eve lived idyllically in innocence. See Genesis 19.

[Page 36, line 19] the Fall the Fall of Man, when Adam and Eve came to the knowledge of Good and Evil, and were expelled from the Garden of Eden. (Not the season of the year!)

[Page 36, line 30] Tokio (more usually spelt Tokyo, today) the capital of Japan. Yokohama iwas the port of Tokio. In 1892, Tokio and Yokohama were separate, about 18 miles apart. Today, there is one long conurbation along the north-west side of Tokyo Bay.

[Page 36, line 31] Nikko a town some 85 miles north of Tokyo, with many shrines. (See From Sea to Sea Letter XiX.)

[Page 37, line 14] Bayswater an area of west central London, bordering Hyde Park, the Bayswater Road being the westward extension of Oxford Street. It contained London’s first department store, Whiteley’s. It was then an up-market area of London: parts of it still are.

[Page 37, line 22] thwart a cross bench in a boat, on which a rower sits.

[Page 38, line 2] spit at this time, sailors, in particular, would chew tobacco, rather than smoking it in a pipe, or in the form of a cigar or cheroot, or cigarette.
When all the virtue had been extracted, the residue was spat out. Chewing tobacco came in the form of a ‘plug’, which was a leaf, or number of leaves, compressed together.

[Page 38, lines 3-28] Kipling is being ironic here at the expense of ‘Jack ashore’. His description is not entirely unfair. After a three months’ cruise around the islands of the north west Pacific, living on hard tack and tinned or salted meat after the first two weeks, Jack had a physical need to ‘let his hair down’ and indulge himself.

[Page 38, lines 14/15] Consular Courts By the provisions of the various Treaties under which foreigners were allowed to trade in Japan, foreign nationals committing offences against local laws were tried in courts presided over by their Consul, who had the powers of a Magistrate.

[Page 38, line 25] Hatoba a wharf: The policeman stopped Jack from getting back to his ship on time.

[Page 39, line 28] forty million Japanese the population at the last census (2004) was 127,333.002.

[Page 40, pages 13/14] two perambulators abreast i.e., about six feet (1.8 metres).

[Page 40, lines 18-24] If you look closely . . . scatteration is apparently designed . . . reason is not given the same word, ‘scatteration’ was found in mediaeval England, where the lands of a village were divided into strips, which were distributed among families so that each had a share of good and bad land, well-watered or dry, etc. The word ‘scatteration’ is an unusual form of ‘scattering’; in the Oxford English Dictionary this quote from Kipling is the third citation.

[Page 41, line 12] weed-spuds the plural of ‘weed-spud’, a tool with a forked prong for digging up weeds.

[Page 42] It is of interest that Kipling thought it worth-while to go into considerable detail about the land-tax in Japan. This was more likely to have been for the interest of readers of the Civil and Military Gazette in Lahore, than for readers in London and New York. British officials in India were much concerned with issues of land tenure and taxation.

[Page 44, lines 5-6] Kamakura … where the great bronze Buddha sits Kamakura is a town on the coast, some 31 miles (50 km) aouth-south-west of Tokyo, formerly of greater importance than it has today.

The great statue of the Buddha is at Kotokuin Temple, and is 44 feet (13.25 metres) high.

[Page 44, line 27] censer an incense burner.

[Page 45, line 1] Ananda one of the principal disciples of the Buddha.

[Page 45, line 7] Devadatta a cousin of Gautama Buddha, who challenged him for the leadership of the sect.

[Page 45, line 18] joss sticks sticks of incense, to burn as an offering at the shrine: from joss, meaning luck.

[Page 45, line 20] carp an edible freshwater fish: one of the original fishes which were ‘farmed’; in mediaeval England such establishments as Abbeys would have a fish pond stocked with carp to provide fare for Fridays and for Lent, the weeks leading up to Easter, when meat could not be eaten by Christians.

[Page 45, line 31] cinnamon the bark of a tree (genus Cinnamomum), which is powdered to make a spice: in this case, the delicatte brown colour of that spice.

[Page 46, line 8] Bodhisat one who has reached the highest degree of enlightenment, and whose next incarnation will be as the Buddha.

As written originally, the letter concluded with the words:

At the entrance to the gardens, there is a quaint letter of appeal, half pathetic and half dignified, put forward by the priests of the place, for reverence and decent behaviour on the part of visitors. It might perhaps be done into rhyme, something after this style.

The poem “Buddha at Kamakura” follows, including an eighth verse, which is not collected. It reads:

Yea (or the) voice of every soul that clung
Is life that strove from rung to rung
When Devadatta’s rule was young
In worship at Kamakura.

The poem bore no title.

©Alastair Wilson 2011 All rights reserved