Time Traveler

Back to Contents of Issue: October 2005

A roundup of Japanese news one hundred years ago

by Compiled by the editor

Alleged Russian Outrage
According to the Hakodate correspondent of the Japan Advertiser, the Japanese sealing schooner "Tora-maru," of Yokohama, was otter-hunting off Shamushiri Island when on July 1st she picked up a boat containing four men, part of the crew of the "Matsutomo-maru." According to the correspondent's account, the "Matsutomo-maru," while on her way to the hunting grounds off the Commander Islands, encountered a gale on June 18th, during which she sprang a leak and foundered, nine of her crew going down with the vessel, while the remainder, eighteen in number with three boats, managed to land on the coast of Kamschatka....As they were entirely without provisions and a number of them sick from exposure in the boats, four men volunteered to take one of the boats and go to Shumushiri [sic], where there is a Japanese settlement, for assistance. After being in the boat for five days, they fell in with the "Tora-maru."

On hearing of the plight of the shipwrecked men, the master of the "Tora-maru" kept away for the bay inn which they were reported to have landed, arriving there on the morning of July 5th, and seeing a number of men on the beach he ordered three boats to be lowered and manned by a crew of four each. These pulled for the shore.

In response to signals on shore the men in the boat approached, but only to find that the men who had been signaling were Russians. They at once stopped pulling and began to back away from the shore, when suddenly from four different places on shore fire was opened on the boats, the crews of which were entirely unarmed. The crew of the leading boat attempted to pull out, but after the second volley all were mortally wounded. Nevertheless the fire from over thirty rifles on shore was continued until the boat was riddled with bullets and sank....

The crew of the second boat at the first fire dropped in the bottom of the boat, and being further out escaped most of the fire, which was concentrated on the leading boat, though every man in the boat was severely wounded.... But, favoured by the wind and tide, the boat drifted off shore out of rifle shot, where she was taken in tow by the third boat and brought off to the "Tora-maru."

The "Tora-maru" then made for Hakodate, where she duly arrived, and the wounded men were at once removed to a hospital.

Nothing is known of the fate of the balance of the "Matsutomo-maru's" crew, but it is believed that they have been murdered by the Russians, as one of the wounded men who belonged to the "Matsutomo-maru," and who was in the second boat, declares that the men they first saw on the beach were wearing the clothes belonging to the men that had been left there.

The story is an extraordinary one, and would seem to require considerable corroboration before being accepted.

From The Japan Weekly Chronicle, August 3rd, 1905

The Old Couple and Their Pets
A refreshing story in these sadly hackneyed days comes from Kumamoto prefecture. It is told by the Nippon....

Okamura Kumakichi, an old gentleman with some means, lives in amity with his wife Okamura Itsu, at Mefune-machi in Kumamoto. Curiously the old couple, who are each near seventy, have never had any children, but they appear to be perfectly content with numerous substitutes of a lower order. In their house will be found in pleasant companionship dogs, cats, snakes, and frogs, and the veracious writer in the Nippon gives the story of how the collection was formed. Fifty years ago, when the master of the establishment was newly married, he was walking along a road near his native town. Suddenly a small frog hopped from a ditch and persistently hovered about the young man's feet. So persistent was the little frog that it was tenderly picked up and placed in the garden where it is today. It settled remarkably well in its new quarters... and refused all temptations to depart. Okamura fed the frog daily, and now it comes regularly for its meals and is always indoors on time. The frog is a remarkable specimen of its kind, weighing about five pounds. Of late years it has had the companionship of another frog, which weighs a pound, but shows a marked preference for the friendship of Tama, an intelligent dog, which the owner values most among the eight that are domiciled within the gates.

There are also two snakes, -- one seven feet long and... the other much smaller. The larger one has lived thirty years with its owner. It was first discovered in a rice barn, at a time when Okamura was much puzzled by the continued disappearance of his store of rice. This was thirty years ago. He decided to find out the thief. One day he remained hidden in the barn... and soon saw a snake enter and begin devouring the family staple. Most men would have killed the snake, but the man who had trained a frog had different ideas. We are not told how he secured the reptile, but the fact remains that gradually its wild instincts became tamed, and now with its companion, excepting at meal times and when it goes out to play in the garden, it is always to be found coiled up on a cushion. The Nippon writer describes how at meals times the snakes, the frogs, the dogs and nine tabby cats with no tails to speak of are to be seen in the garden all on the best of terms with each other... Immediately on the conclusion of the meal...the frogs hop back to their nests in grass, the snakes glide to their cushions, and the cats and dogs quietly disperse.

Naturally in the midst of all this life and friendship the old couple never feel lonely, and when the time comes for them to join their ancestors, their most sincere mourners will be the animals whose friendship they have so long enjoyed.

From The Japan Weekly Chronicle, August 10th, 1905

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