Charles Lang Freer to Frank J. Hecker, his business partner
June 26, 1895
This transcription retains the original spelling and punctuation of Freer's letter.
Dear Mr. Hecker:
Experience is gradually teaching me how to travel in Japan; what to see and how to look at it –
The more closely I follow Japanese customs in ways of travel, food, &c., also in places to visit and in seeing things from their point of view the greater my pleasure. When a real Jap – (not the half Europeanized cuss.) wants to have a good time and that occurs whenever he has money enough, he hies himself to the country, and the great temples, and picturesque little spots in the mountains and along the seashore where he always manages to have a gigantic hurrah – Ample opportunities exist and everything goes – no not every thing!! seriousness, care for the next days head or the bank acct. are always barred – And this was the life of old Japan and this explains their love for the butterfly in their ancient art – Butterflies they themselves would now be if free from foreign influence, foreign imitation – a simple, light-hearted, and tremendously artistic people – I wonder what they will be a century hence? Their art at least, will be entirely changed and probably worthless – By this, I mean their hundreds of things artistic and at the same time utilitarian – Of course, the way of a people has nothing whatever to do with art in its very highest form –
This trip is taking me to some very delightful old art centers –Daimyo towns with their ruined castles, ancient gardens and splendid tree lined roads – And I am receiving charming little hospitalities and seeing many fine things –
Jinrikisha travelling beats all other methods!! Think of a human horse who will haul you one mile or fifty per day – whom you never overdrive and seldom tire, with whom you can eat, drink, smoke, sleep and live with pleasure – I have six such chaps with me now. All fine fellows – One cooks excellently – another speaks a little English and teaches me Japanese. Another does the hard drinking for the crowd, a fourth flirts with the country girls—the other two sees that I interfere not with the perogatives of the fourth. They all have surprisingly good judgement in matters artistic, especially my two Kioto men – When we go shopping they put on good clothes, and ride in jinrikshas, and look wise and handsome enough – the curio dealers are fearful liars and swindlers, as a class – but my gang generally equals the worst. Its great fun and I really am having a good time, and am securing a few mementoes worthy a more intelligent, appreciative owner. Yesterday I saw the first foreigner I have met since leaving Kioto two weeks ago – an American missionary astride a modern bicycle!! He was long, and lean, and sad and very hungry looking – And the hundreds of Buddha images along the road changed not their unruffled calm, their artless meditation. The summer wind still caressed the Shinto Tori with accustomed softness and the sunlight touched temple and shrine with old time sweetness and tenderness. It was not an ash strewn road – “The Gods of the Fathers of this Island” seemed still to live!!! I am not sure of spiritual sympathy for that poor, possibly, heroic missionary – but I was irresistibly touched by his forlorn looks and seemingly hopeless mission.
And still not so very many centuries ago Buddha was unknown in Japan – Strange that the country who then sent missionaries should now be so humiliated by those whose souls they then desired to save. Query: Is America to be treated like China? And when is the very essence, the divine in all religious beliefs to overcome the bigotry of so-called Christians and so-called pagans – In the Orient ones mind frequently and easily turns many corners of the endless road to the great Unknown. To the stranger in India that Faith which drove Buddhism from its very birth place to China, Korea and finally Japan seems the representation of archaic truth.
In Japan, a highly idealized, elusive, aesthetic interpretation, a mingling of innocence, magic and vapory reverence together with admirable contentment and gladdened existence compels one to recognize a holiness in Buddhas teachings exceedingly charming and perfectly harmonious with summery Japanese life.
And here Shintoism a somewhat less aerial faith has many devoted followers including the imperial family – Some of its temples are truly charming structures. They usually stand side by side with those of Buddha but are less ornate and more to my liking architecturally – At times, I think the splendid groves of pine, cedar, camphor and other great trees surrounding the Japanese temples the finest forestry I have ever seen – Forest may impress you as extravagant – but I assure you in many places no other word would apply.
One of the greatest charms of my country trips is the splendor of trees, foliage and blossoms!! Everywhere – evidence of Japanese intelligent discrimination, reverential gardening and forestry. I fear this fearful writing will hardly pay you for deciphering – Should it prove very troublesome lay it aside for an idle afternoon—Do you have any such? I fear not!! If you will continue your kind patience until the middle of September I hope to shortly thereafter give you a “helping hand.”
To yourself and family my love and best wishes.