Travel Observations by Engelbert Kaempfer
The German physician, Engelbert Kaempfer, was born in 1651 in the Westphalian town of Lemgo. Kaempfer did quite a bit of traveling throughout his life, and in September of 1690 Kaempfer’s ship arrived at the coast of Nagasaki, the only Japanese port that was open to foreigners at the time. Kaempfer visited Japan during the Tokugawa period, named for the Tokugawa Shogun who governed from 1603 to 1868. Kaempfer stayed in Japan for two years, and he wrote about his many experiences and observations. The excerpts you will read below are from an English translation of Kaempfer’s writings: Engelbert Kaempfer, Kaempfer’s Japan, Tokugawa Culture Observed, edited, translated, and annotated by Beatrice M. Bodart-Bailey (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press), 1999. (The sections below can be found on pages 271-9.)
The Crowds of People Traveling This Highway Daily
and Gaining their Livelihood Therefrom
An incredible number of people daily use the highways of Japan's provinces, indeed, at certain times of the year they are as crowded as the streets of a populous European city. I have personally witnessed this on the Tokaido [highway] apparently the most important of the seven highways, having traveled this road four times. The reason for these crowds is partly the large population of the various provinces and partly that the Japanese travel more often than other people. Here I will introduce the most memorable groups of travelers one meets daily on these roads.
Of greatest importance are the processions of the greater and lesser territorial lords, as well as those of the greater and lesser stewards of shogunal cities and provinces, who annually travel up and down this road, that is to say, twice in one year, since they have to appear at the court at a certain time and then have to depart again. They make this journey accompanied by all of their retinue, with a display of as many people and as much expense as their status and wealth permit. To pass the procession of one of the greatest territorial lords takes several days of traveling; since we traveled fast, we would always spend two days passing various groups of the advance party, consisting of lower servants, officials in charge of the baggage, and porters, before finally on the third day we saw the territorial lord himself, traveling in closed formation with his courtiers. . . The Procession of a Territorial Lord
To provide a picture of these processions, we will watch one of a territorial lord pass by, with its advance baggage train, sedan chairs, led horses, and finally the lord's personal contingent. However, not one of the most important . . . but some of the other, ordinary daimyo [daimyo means local territorial lord] such as those we met at various times; there processions are no different and fit the same description. . . The norimono, or palanquin, on which the lord sits, is carried by six to eight uniformed men, who are often relieved by an equally large party of men. The palanquin is accompanied on each side by two or three valets to hand the lord whatever he desires and assist him in getting in and out of the palanquin. . .
If the son accompanies a territorial lord, he follows with his own retinue immediately after his father’s norimono.
Watching the procession of a territorial lord, one cannot help but be impressed and praise high enough, firstly, how with the exception of the norimono bearers everybody is dressed in black silk, and secondly how so many people travel in close and well-ordered formation with only the sound of their clothes, feet, and the horses being heard. But it is ridiculous to see how the bearers of pikes and norimono have their clothes tucked in high at their back to publicly display their bare buttocks with only a narrow loin cloth down the gap. Also how the bodyguards and bearer of pikes . . . put on a swaggering gait when they pass through inhabited areas and meet other...
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