Sir Rutherford Alcock

Sir Rutherford Alcock (1809-1897)

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Rutherford Alcock was the first British Consul-General in Japan.  He opened the British legation at Tozen temple in what is now Minato Ward in Western Tokyo.  In 1860 he persuaded the Japanese officials to allow him to embark on a short expedition into the interior of Japan.  Much of this trip took place in what is now Shizuoka Prefecture.  Alcock climbed Mount Fuji and visited the hot spring resort of Atami.  In fact, he claimed to be the first foreign recreational traveler into the interior of Japan (p.329).  Alcock’s account of the trip appeared in Volume 31 of the Journal of the Royal Geographical Society under the title Narrative of a Journey in the interior of Japan, Ascent of Fuji-yama, and Visit to the Hot Sulphur Baths of Atami, in 1860.  All quotations are taken from this text.

The title page of the journal in which Alcock’s article was featured

Alcock entered what is now Shizuoka prefecture from Hakone on the Tokaido. The Tokaido was the main highway between Edo (Tokyo) and Kyoto.  The view into Shizuoka was, wrote Alcock, “most picturesque” (p.339).  Mishima was the first good size town he passed through and was, according to Alcock, “a large and populous town.” (p.339)  After staying in Mishima for the night, Alcock traveled through Numazu and Hara on route to Yoshiwara.  It appears he passed through what is now Senbonhama Park as he describe how the “loud roar of breakers reached the ear, softened by its passage through a narrow belt of pines.” (p.340)  At Yoshiwara he experienced a typhoon.  Alcock didn’t record it as a typhoon though; instead he simply stated that it had “rained heavily nearly all day” (p.340).  After Yoshiwara he turned off the main highway in the direction of ‘Omio’ (Omiya, now part of Fujinomiya) and Murayama (also part of Fujinomiya) and eventually Mt. Fuji.

For Alcock, the ascent of Fuji was quite arduous.  Concerning the last stage of the climb he wrote “More than an hour’s toil and frequent stoppage for breath, and rest to aching legs and spine were needed…” (p.344)  Unlike most subsequent foreign climbers, Alcock didn’t write about the view from the summit.  Alcock’s account contains none of the usual descriptions of breathtaking views and wonderful panoramas.  Instead he focused on collecting and recording scientific and geographical data.  He recorded, for example, the approximate height of the mountain and the dimensions of the central crater.  For all the difficulties in gaining permission to travel into the interior of Japan and arduous climb, Alcock’s account of his time at the summit of Mount Fuji reads as something of an anti-climax.

Alcock’s monument in Atami City

After descending the mountain, Alcock journeyed to Atami in the North West of the Izu Peninsula.  Overall Alcock believed Atami to be “as quiet, picturesque, and secluded a spot as could well be selected for rest and recreation” (pp.347-8)    Although Alcock was impressed by the steam and water vented throughout the village he didn’t believe the people of Atami were making best use of it.  In fact, Alcock claims to have introduced the idea of vapour baths to the people of Atami.

Poor Toby – the monument to Alcock’s dog, Toby, who died in Atami

What impressed Alcock most on this trip was the landscape of Shizuoka.  In particular, the views from the road between Atami and Mishima drew great praise from Alcock.  The road, he claimed, passed through many “grand and picturesque features; wild downs, basaltic rocks often protruding from the sides of steep ravines, terraced hills and lovely valleys sloping down to the sea, with the usual luxuriance of foliage, marked the whole way.” (p.348)  Alcock continues “I have seen few countries in Europe or Asia possessing so many elements of richness and picturesque beauty combined as these islands may boast.” (p.348)

Mount Fuji as viewed between Mishima and Atami

In conclusion Alcock was charmed by his trip into the interior of Japan.  It was the landscapes and nature of Shizuoka that left the most lasting impresseion.  In particular Alcock reserved the most effusive praise for the area between Mishima and Atami; an area which is almost as beautiful now as it was in Alcock’s day.

Reference

Alcock, Rutherford, 1861. Narrative of a Journey in the interior of Japan, Ascent of Fuji-yama, and Visit to the Hot Sulphur Baths of Atami, in 1860. Journal of the Royal Geographical Society, 31. pp.321-56

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