State Library of Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 44 Spring 1989

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Travellers: Violet Ida Chomley in Japan

While not unheard of, it was surely uncommon in 1903 for a woman to set out to travel from Australia to England via the Philippines, Japan and Russia. Yet this is what Violet Ida Chomley and her companion did. Miss Chomley had been an outstanding mathematics scholar at the University of Melbourne and later a school-teacher. Her trip to England was intended as a vacation; in the event, however, she remained for the rest of her life in England, as a teacher, school principal and county councillor. The account of her journey from which the following extract is taken, together with her passport, souvenirs and some photographs, are part of a larger collection of Chomley family papers presented to the Library in 1986.
You will want to know what we have been doing here. On Sunday we went out in rickshas and after blindly agreeing to go to some place recommended by the ricksha man we found ourselves at a dancing place. Here we had to take off our boots and sit on cushions the while we were given tea and cake and were entertained by two dancing girls and an orchestra of one, two or three. The dancers were youngsters of about 12 or 14, the first dance a pas de seul was not unlike the movements of a minuet, another was almost wholly posturing and a third appeared to be imitative of some employment. While the two kiddies danced a fat girl very much out of breath and with a bad cold played a stringed instrument of the banjo tribe and sang woefully out of tune. Part of the time the three played, one of them on sorts of leather drums, shaped like egg boilers one held under her arm the other in her left hand while she struck the two with her right hand, the third girl had a more ordinary drum which she struck lustily with sticks. It was the sort of thing you wanted to see once, and for that you had to pay properly. For this way of spending a Sunday morning and for other reasons Fran thinks this should be called not the “Grand Tour” but the “Downward Path”. Another day we saw, but this unpremeditated, two boys wrestling, not a rag on but loin clothes. I managed to get a snap of them. Hope it will be good. About the temples and elsewhere there are funny little bazaars, suggesting sometimes the Arcade, sometimes Cole's and sometimes the Eastern Market. One day we went by train to Kyoto about 1 ½ hours had tiffin there and saw some of the factories — one Cloisonne, another of Satsuma, another of Damascene, another bronzes. The Damascene is only elsewhere made at Toledo. We have also Satsuma and Cloisonne places here. The Satsuma which takes its name from the place where the porcelain is made is most beautiful, and the proprietors will take any amount of trouble in shewing you round and bringing out their best ware, and will calmly interrupt an artist at work, taking his work out of his hand to shew it. This work is not done for export. There is a new kind of Cloisonne now, on silver instead of copper, very expensive but I don't think nearly as beautiful as the other. I have seen some lovely specimens but on the whole I much prefer the copper with its dull(?) surface. The embroideries are something exquisite and these also you can see for the asking. One of the worst features of going to these places is that so often you have to have tea.
Yesterday afternoon we took the train a little way and then walked along the beach — on the shore of the Inland Sea — and got the train further along the line to come back. The day we were at Kyoto we missed our train coming back, at least we got to the station two or three minutes behind time but our next train was so very much more behind in starting that I dare say we might have got the earlier. However we concluded it was hopeless and faced the situation which was a wait of over an hour and arrival long after dinner was over. The hotel at which we had tiffin was much too far from the station to go there and there was no sign of a shop where English was spoken. We found one place with some oranges, pointed to them, held out a 5sen piece (1 ¼) and took what they gave us viz. 4. Then we found a restaurant of sorts at the station. We entered it rather in fear and trembling and got some soup this was followed by chicken cutlet which was so raw it reminded me of meals at Mrs. Jays, some nasty tea, some toast and oranges. I believe the restaurant was changing hands or cooks or something. When we got back to our hotel we succeeded in getting some tea and toast and cake. They make jolly good sponge cake. We have heard and our own experience at seven or eight different hotels bears it out that you cannot get better food in Japan.
It is very hard to write of “impressions”, it is all so like the pictures and what one reads. The kiddies are quaint and it is funny to see real little boys, some sizes smaller than C (?) in military overcoats with red facings and gilt buttons, it doesnt seem to mean
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anything. The women we
have seen have almost invariably worn native costume, but the men ware sometimes native sometimes European and frequently a mixture. Very often an Inverness overcoat, nearly every man seems to wear this, over native dress, the head either bare or with a travelling cap or European hat. They seem to have wonderfully little feeling in head and feet, on the coldest days they will often wear nothing on their head and on their feet cotton garments a sort of sock, with a special place for the big toe, this enables them to catch the strap of the clog or the straw sandal. Clogs everyone wears, I mean, every class of Japanese as far as one can judge from the rest of their dress. The clogs are of wood on two supports and make a great but not unpleasant clatter. In the towns we have been in, except Yokohama and Tokio, there has been no horse traffic except with an occasional heavy lorry load. In Yokohama and Tokio there were carriages and horses, but elsewhere Shimonoseki, Kobe, Kyoto, Osaka practically any conveyance is by ricksha and in Kyoto electric tram. The ricksha men almost invariably wear dark blue, sort of dungaree, tight pantaloons and a thickish coat which they slip off when they get hot and on their heads in fine weather a cap in wet and I suppose if the sun were hot a straw affair very like an inverted saucer which acts as a sort of umbrella.
On our way down from Yokohama we saw plenty of snow, thick on the roofs of the houses and falling as we came, this is all we have seen of it close at hand except a few flakes today, but there is plenty on the mountains. The country about here is very pretty, I never saw such blue mountains and the bamboo groves and hedges are beautifully graceful.
I have written 10 pages straight on end besides the notes and as I have to write some other letters for the mail it is about up to me to stop now …