The Different Man In Rural Japan:

Frank Scudder’s Recollection at age 90 about Being a “Foreigner” in Western Japan in the 1880s

Rev. Frank Seymour Scudder

By Rev. Frank Scudder,   © by Jack Scudder Gillmar, Scudder Association Foundation Board Member, by permission

           An early writer on Japan said the people were as different from us as if they had dropped from the planet Mars. It is interesting to note that in Japan a common word for foreigner is “i-jinthe Different Man. If they seem different to us, is it strange if we seem different to them? We write in horizontal lines, they in perpendicular columns; we read from left to right; they from right to left; we say, “The man went to Yokohama”; they say, “Yokohama to went man”. Using the saw and plane, we push the tool from us; they draw it toward them. On the summit of Fujiyama there is a bubbling spring of water. What, are even the mountains upside-down. Which of us really is the different man?

 In the 1880’s when I was living in New York and Illinois, the New York Press, (generally speaking) gave New York news, with scant attention to affairs abroad; Chicago papers gave Chicago news. The moment I stepped aboard an ocean liner I found myself in an international atmosphere. Already I felt I was a different man; the conversation was on world affairs. To me, also in Japan, it seemed as if the people might have been dropped from the planet Mars. I have learned to be thankful that we are not all alike; that we have much to learn from different people.

  At the turn of the century it was my privilege to be living in rural Japan, intimately observing our differences. Plain narrative of some of our experiences seem to me as revealing as a study.

 On my arrival I asked a professor to write a telegram for me, “I will arrive tomorrow morning.” Carefully I copied this in my note book for future use. Shortly thereafter I was stalled in a violent blizzard. Ah! that telegram; just was just what I needed. I showed it to the station master. (I had made an error in my copying.) “What did you want to say?” he asked. I told him as well as I could. “I think you had better say it that way,” he said. When I arrived I asked my teacher what was wrong with it. ”It says,” he replied, “Tomorrow morning I will hang.”

  Living in Nagano, chief city of a large interior province, I began by teaching English, in home classes, in an English Language School; English songs also, to those who had a taste for music. The Japanese people are the smilingest people I ever knew, and my teacher, he had a smile like the Cheshire Cat; when he came down the street you could see the smile coming before you could see the man.

  One more activity of mine, I was invited by the (provincial) government to teach English in the School for Student Police. I accepted with the understanding I must be away on frequent tours. The day I announced I must be away on a tour of the province, “Fine!” they replied, “the students should know the province at first hand, they shall accompany you on your tour.” People of the countryside seeing me accompanied by a large body of men in uniform thought I must be a desperate criminal – No, I was unshackled, I must be some distinguished diplomat or royal visitor. At this time I did not foresee how great a boon this trip with my students was to become to me; that, later on, in nearly every town I entered I would find a friendly policeman awaiting my visit. But, brother, don’t kid yourself, you’re still the different man. One early morning, walking along enjoying the crisp autumn air and fragrant smell of wood smoke rising from many cottages, I saw a young girl sitting silent as a statue on front steps. Catching a glimpse of me, she sprang as if shot out of a circus gum; round the corner she sprinted shouting, “Mina hayaku kite miro. NANIKA KITA.” (Everybody quick come see. SOMETHING’S COME!)

  One of my favorite Normal students, after graduation, was a problem to his school authorities; he was an out spoken Christian. Call him Saburo. He was not the kind who would hide his light under a bushel: where was the community that would welcome him as a teacher?  About 100 miles away there was a lonely but lovely village of a few hundred people. They were proud of their village, organized it like a city with a mayor and council, and called it Modeltown. They gracefully accepted Saburo, the new appointee but at the end of the year quietly released him.  But the young men of the community were devoted to him, built a log cabin schoolhouse, started an English study school and engaged him as a teacher. The next year Saburo was back in his original position and accepted as a member of the community.

  In summer vacation my language teacher and I decided to visit Saburo and Modeltown.  Traveling through this rough mountainous province, the only way of comfort is to go on your feet. We engaged a jinrikisha man to carry our necessary impediments, and set out to do 30 miles a day. Passing through a village one day, we found neither man, woman nor child in sight; it was silkworm season and everyone was out in the mulberry fields gathering leaves for those voracious little creatures. Houses were unguarded and the village store wide open to the street, with goods attractively displayed and tagged with prices. Conspicuously in front was an open cigar box containing a handful of small change for the convenience of passers by who might like to buy something. We bought some things for lunch, paid the price as tagged and passed on. Two days were easily accomplished and then the jinrikisha man would go no further. Being the height of the silkworm season, nary a man could we find to accompany us 35 miles yet to go and our luggage to carry! Before the day was done I wanted to lie down under a tree and let the world go by, but my companion kept saying, “Think of a good hot bath and a roof over us.” At 9 p.m. we arrived at the hotel, in Modeltown where a room had been reserved for us. Every other nook and corner was occupied by crunching silkworms, and our room was occupied by the Mayor and Council who had come to welcome us. Tea, cakes and conversation whiled away the time till midnight. Was ever rest so longed for! Often I have wondered how we survived that day. With springy floor mats for our bed, we said, “Good night; sleep late.”

  Too tired to sleep – you know the feeling – we lay just dazed and semi-conscious.  At dim daylight I felt a presence in the room, the kettle was simmering, and on the little foot high table I spied some tea cups. On either side of the table, like silent statues, there sat the mayor and head councilman. For a few moments I played possum. Then I decided, “The sooner we rise and acknowledge this courtesy, the sooner we get back to rest.” But others began to come, bringing fruit and cakes. Last night my companion learned we were to be entertained to-day with a great feast. Perceiving that the feast was now beginning, I humbly apologized for being caught in my night robe. “Oh no indeed,” they protested, “we prefer to see you in honorable comfort; sitting on the floor in European garments would be so inconvenient. Please be at ease.” All day we kept nibbling, exchanging pleasantries and information. About 4 p.m., begging to get worried, I reminded them that we were to speak that night at the school assembly room, and must get dressed. “O certainly, feel no embarrassment,” they said, and kept on sitting. 

  On trains I had seen men make a complete change of clothes without wholly removing their kimono. This I now attempted to do, with fair success; but to shave, this was something else again; the whole room was open to the out of doors; if I face away from the party I must face the world. I chose the lesser evil, and, kneeling, with a basin on the floor, faced outward. Good luck, it was pouring rain.  But, a young girl next door, seizing a spreading oil-paper umbrella, came and stood right below me, watching with evident amusement to see how the different man does it with a safety razor. So finally, everything ready, all together, we were honorably escorted to our evening engagement.

Tomorrow’s itinerary lay over Oodaira, The Great Plain.  After the strenuous days just passed, how restful that sounded, the great plain!  Soon we discovered the humor of the name, it is a steep trail, up and down, up and down, over five successive mountain ranges but at last, what a pleasant ending to a strenuous day. Two miles out from Iida, our destination, came a group of friends to greet us with a song and escort us into the ‘city.’ “Where do we stay?” I asked. “At the Brookwillow,” was the reply. “Never!” I protested. “Never again.  I stayed there once, and they showed me no decent courtesy.” “Oh, we are sorry; but the proprietor himself came out to meet you and there he is; he has your packages already.” (Note:  in my former visit at that hotel they seemed not to want me there; so when I paid the bill, to make them feel ashamed of themselves, I thanked them heartily and added an extra generous ‘chadai’ – tea money – as though I had been royally entertained. So this! We were escorted to the bamboo-decorated private entrance to the hotel. Two charming little girls robed in their best kimonos knelt and bowed, politely touching their heads to the matted floor, their gorgeous black hair tumbling over their ears and foreheads – Brother! Could anyone be found to describe that picture!

 Now how about a little excitement? Let’s take a boat trip down the Ten-ryugawa – Heaven Dragon River; a river that tears down between lofty mountains through narrow gorges, and rapids that look like a frightened herd of wild horses. It can be navigated only by boatmen of rare skill and experience. We sometimes knock on wood to ward off evil. With a similar superstition the pilot boatman standing at the bow, strikes the side of the boat, sending a resounding ‘Boom,’ ‘Boom’ echoing among the cliffs and hills. We are breaking all speed limits when – horrors! – We are heading right into a rocky cliff! What can save us now? But the boatmen know the water has to make the elbow turn, and in its backward surge, aided by the lightning skill of the oarsmen we swing around in the opposite direction. Now catch your breath! The sound of dashing torrents and like stampeding horses – heaven help us! –two huge rocks ahead a row boat couldn’t squeeze between them, but the boatmen knows we are shoving water off us and we head straight for it, hang on for your life! Up we go like a leaping porpoise; the ribs of the boat yield like a rubber tire-casing. A boat built with rigid metal nails could not take it, but held together with springy, resilient bamboo nails, they wiggle through like an eel. Some people are built like that; they can carry us through if we don’t jump overboard.

 Calm down for a change; we are entering Mother Nature’s wonderful hanging gardens, mountains high, and right down here where we can almost reach out and touch the shore as we quietly drift along, are the tiniest little plants in bloom, anchoring their roots in crevices of rock; little azalea bushes an baby wisteria, six inches in height, with midget blooms.

 But time is flying I want you to enjoy a natural hot-sulphur-bath in Suwa. Get there early before the rush is on. The ‘boy’ (who is always a girl) knows we like it private. “Sorry” she says, “but there’s a man in there I can’t get out.” Never mind, I’ll go anyway. I find the man lying asleep on the floor. The tub, sunken below floor level, is about six feet each way. Good luck, I have it all to myself then, a grunt; the sleeper rolls over and down, splash beside me. He stared at me; I was a different man. “Oh – excuse me; I didn’t know it was you; excuse me; I overeat a little tonight, excuse me. You are a Christian, aren’t you?  I know something about that way. Bishop Audrey gave me a Bible. Excuse me.” We had a little chat together. He is perfectly harmless. Don’t miss this wonderful bath.

 What’s this? A telegram! “Serious error appear at once at this office for correction Post Master Nagano. Well, what now have I done! A government matter too! I had better get a move on. So, up and over a thousand foot mountain and then over a 4000 foot pass; jinrikisha 20 miles to nearest R.R. Station, and home. I appear at the post office and show my summons, and am invited to sit down. Mounting heartbeats! A clerk appears with a handful of documents. “You sent a money order to London a while ago?” I did. “We regret you were over charged; it must be corrected. Please sign here.” I signed several papers and received a refund, – 3 sen, (1 cent); thus the serious error was corrected.


 A house fire in Japan is as swift as a forest fire; run for your life! Firemen play the hose upon neighboring houses more than on the one ablaze. One day, during an epidemic of the flu, out of the eight persons in our house, five of us were down with fever, two small children were confined to the cribs; the eighth our “Bible Woman, was the only one on her feet. A large school building right opposite us burst into flames and she screamed FIRE! Springing to my feet, I gathered the children in the holds of their bedding, rushed to the entrance door and gave them into the arms of the first person I saw, and dashed back to find my wife trying to save her mother, who was protesting “I will not leave my clothes.” We pushed her to the door, and we went in out stocking feet into the snow and down the street, till a barber, stretching his arms across the narrow way, steered us into his little shop, where he and his wife, threw round us their own winter garments, and stirred up their little charcoal embers.

 No one had any hope for our house. Several Normal students climbed to the roof and swept off falling firebrands. In each room a policeman stood guard while the people rushed in and removed every movable possession, one man standing up from a sick bed, carried our sewing machine to a ‘rickshaw’ stand a block away, and went back to bed. The piano, beds and bookcases only were not moved out. Then suddenly the wind shifted in the opposite direction, leaving our house uninjured, but the whole group of school buildings was swept away.

 In half an hour after the first alarm we were all led back to our house, to find ladies waiting with tea and cakes and a tender-hearted reception, such as an event like that can call forth. Everything was soon returned to the spot from which it had been taken; not a thing was missing and just one little toy was broken. People came bringing eggs, rice and fruits; merchants sent gifts of cloth, charcoal and articles of immediate need, and strangers came to our door, just to congratulate us on our escape.

 How utterly words fail to express our amazement for such human kindness. I thought of an old lady who, in similar circumstances, said, – – “Oh” – – words fail me!” and then as if in despair, – “Oh, well, the Lord pays my debts. Only He can pay my debts.

 In a land of constantly recurring tragedies, earthquakes, conflagrations, volcanic eruptions, typhoons and tidal waves, the way people, ready trained, spring to rescue each other, is beyond description’ then suddenly bravely facing the new situation, say, “What can’t be helped, why brood over it?” Was there ever a land more beautiful! ‘where the deer and the antelope play’, a land of famous shrines and scenery divine: whole mountain  sides abloom with azalea, parked with cherry trees and apricot trees aflame; gardens of iris, wisteria, lotus flowers and chrysanthemums! And see the children on a summer night waving little cages they or their parents have made, to hold the chirping cricket they have caught, or the glowing little fireflies.

In the Russo-Japan war one of my students was aboard the Hitachi Maru when she was sunk by a Russian war ship. The Russian guns were turned upon the men struggling in the waves till the waters of the sea turned red. Later, when a Russian vessel was sunk, the Japanese commander shouted the order ‘This is our vengeance for the Hitachi Maru. To the boats! – Save every man you can.”

In that war, we were living next door to the office of the leading Nagano newspaper, where the daily war-bulletins were displayed. One day, seeing a vast crowd assembling, silent as a funeral, stepping out, I asked what had happened. “Oh, terrible, terrible” was the reply, – “90,000 killed!” – “And how with the Russians?” I asked. – “It is the Russians,” was the reply. Japan, in a smashing victory had practically won the war, and stood aghast at the tragedy of it.  After previous victories, parades with banners had gone down our street. This time we saw no parade.

* * *

 I lived in a different world. Often I earnestly wish I could share it with others, but we can really know only by individual experience. This is my story. I lived it. And I want always to treat the different man as kindly as we were treated when we were “The Different Man.”


© Scudder Association Foundation, All rights reserved


1 Comment

  1. Susan Swanson

    What a wonderful story!


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