Rizal in Japan
by Ambeth Ocampo
Rereading Jose Rizal's travel diaries and letters in the country where they were written often gives me some idea of what he saw or felt a century before I followed his footsteps. He was in Japan in April (1888), when the whole country goes nuts over cherry blossoms, yet Rizal did not describe these or even draw the scene for his own notes or for family back home.
Since Rizal was a compulsive and very dedicated diarist, it is quite unusual that his diary entries are sparse in Japan and the United States. Comparing his notes on Hong Kong against that in the United States and Japan, there is so much more detail in the former. For example, on Feb. 17, 1888 he partook of a Chinese lauriat and described it follows:
"Chinese feast. U-long tea is bitter and it is one of the best, three pesos a pound.
"The table is ready; three saucers in front of every guest; the empty one is the largest -- eight centimeters (in diameter) with a porcelain spoon; another smaller one, with soya sauce; and the third, still smaller, with a little cup for the wine; the tiny cup can contain about five to ten grams. There is a tablecloth and a fork with two prongs. In the middle there are small oranges [surely the type we get in cans today called `Mandarin oranges'], salted eggs [probably black century eggs], almonds, and other seeds. [In Manila restaurants today, you get the fried "lumpia" [meat roll] wrapper generously seasoned; otherwise you get boiled peanuts.]
"As each guest arrives, he is offered a cup of U-long tea, the superior tea. Chasan, 10 pesos a pound.
"When the Chinese get a moustache they can no longer shave -- 60 years.
"They begin dinner with tea; then dried fruits. Goose, shrimps, eggs, meat, shark's fins, [bird's] nest, tender duck, chicken with champignon [mushrooms], [sting]ray, chicken with ham, shark's belly.
"Tea with four saucers-chicken with ginger, fish head, mushroom and pork with two plates of rolls [empty "siopao" dumpling?] and tea."
In one of the more innovative projects for a Rizal class, my student Willard Cheng went shopping and reproduced the above dinner. It was both an academic and culinary delight Doreen Fernandez would have enjoyed. Rizal as seen above was so observant and noted everything down, but this all changed when he was in Japan (end of February to end of April 1888) and in the United States (end of April to mid-May 1888).
Of course, I am disappointed by the lack of documentation. Was he preoccupied with sightseeing or something else? After long years of studying Rizal I have realized that when he was silent, that was when he was most eloquent. But then again some people would say that the absence of material is a bottomless pit from which historians can draw so many conclusions.
While Rizal did not write very much in Japan and the United States, he did keep a small rice paper notebook with drawings, notes and doodles that was a visual record of his trip. I can only imagine what he would have done with a digital camera.
This small pocket notebook now in the Lopez Memorial Museum in the suburban Ortigas Center is surprising as it contains drawings Rizal attempted in the Japanese style, using black ink and a brush. We all know he could draw, paint and sculpt since he took up art lessons both in Manila and Madrid, but these Japanese drawings are fascinating because he was only in Japan for a short time yet picked up the style very quickly.
There is one drawing of a woman in traditional garb hiding her face under a fan and here he wrote, in Japanese, the characters for Nippon or Japan. There is a pencil sketch of a woman who I presume is the O Sei-san (or Usui Seiko, depending on which book you are reading) who has been immortalized in the Filipino imagination because of textbooks and the college Rizal course.
In another drawing he showed a woman seated at home and wrote in Spanish: "ventana de papel" [paper window]. I couldn't help but compare his home in Calamba town, south of Manila, where valuables were placed under lock and key, and the quaint Japanese houses with windows and walls of paper and yet crime was rare-or at least he thought in the area where he lived. I am not getting any closer to knowing about O Sei-san but Rizal turned to mush and wrote:
"I'm going to dedicate to you the last chapter of these reminiscences of my early youth. No woman better than you have loved me, no woman like you have sacrificed herself. As the flower of the chodji falls from the stem fresh and perfect without ever being stripped of its petals or withered, tender and poetic even after its fall, thus you fell. Neither did you lose your purity nor did the delicate petals of your innocence wilt-Sayonara, sayonara! You will never come to know that I have thought of you again or that your image lives in my memory; and nevertheless I always think of you. Your name lives in the sighs of my lips; your image accompanies and animates all my thoughts. When shall another divine afternoon like that in the temple of Meguro return? When shall the colors of the camellia, its freshness, its elegance ... Ah! The last descendant of a noble family, true to an unfortunate vengeance, you are beautiful ... Everything is finished! Sayonara, sayonara!"
After all this sentimental text, the next entry states that he is on board a ship bound for San Francisco. He is quiet again because he is seasick and dislikes the food.