No. 303.
Mr. Bingham to Mr. Evarts.

No. 940.]

Sir: Herewith is inclosed, for your information, a history of cholera in Japan, translated from the Osaka Nippo and published in Japan Daily Herald of the 12th instant, which informs us that this pestilence first appeared in Japan in the summer of the 6th year of Shotoku (the year 2376 from the founding of the empire by Jimmu Tenno, and in the reign of Nakamikado Tenno), that is to say, in the year 1716 of our era, and that the mortality exceeded 8,000 per month (translated and published, manifestly by mistake, 80,000 per month).

It also appears from the article that the disease again appeared in the 5th year of Ansei (A. D. 1850), during the reign of Komio Tenno, when it began in the 7th month and raged most furiously during the 8th month, “the men who worked at the cremation furnaces in the evening being themselves changed into smoke the next morning,” and “the name of the tombstone cutter of one day was found carved on a stone on the morrow.” It was believed, the writer states, that all water and all fish were poisoned. The article further states that in the same year (5th of Ansei, A. D. 1850) the record published the 9th month of that year showed that in the city of Yedo, from the 1st to the 30th of the 8th month, the number of deaths were 12,492, as appeared from “the statistics of deaths reported to the government daily,” and that in addition 18,737 persons, whose names had not been properly registered at the ward offices, died.

It also appears that in the 5th year of Ansei the name of the disease was not known, and in the notification issued at that time by the bakufu, a copy of which is appended to the article, it is called the “prevailing disease of sudden purging.” It would seem from this history of the disease that before the eighteenth century this dreaded and destructive pestilence was unknown in Japan, and it is therefore to be inferred that it was imported, as afterwards, in the nineteenth century, it was imported into Europe and America, from India, where, according to the general belief, it has prevailed from time immemorial.

I have, &c.,

[Inclosure 1, in No. 940.—Extract from the Japan Daily Herald, August 12, 1879.]

A brief history of cholera in Japan.

[From the Osaka Nippo.]

Our object in taking up the pen to write a short article on cholera in Japan, which appeared before the restoration, is that, by so doing, the public may learn the past [Page 669] history of this dreadful disease, observe its effects in the present, and take heed for the future.

In the summer of the sixth year of Shotoku (2376, era of Jimmu), in the reign of Nakamikado Tenno, and during the rule of the Shogun Yoshimune, fever prevailed, and the mortality in the city of Great Yedo exceeded 80,000 per month. Owing to the rapid spread of the disease, and the number of deaths, the carpenters were unable to keep pace-with the demand for coffins, and empty sake casks had therefore to be employed for the purpose. The grave-yards were at length all filled up, no space remained for more burials, and the priests of the various sects refused to permit the interment of the remains, insisting that the bodies should be burned and only the ashes be buried.

At the various cremation grounds, therefore, coffins in countless numbers were seen piled on top of each other, the burning of bodies being done in regular succession, according to the order of their arrival. Numbers of corpses, mostly of poor persons, had to be left unburnt for upwards of half a month, and the head man of the ward was at his wit’s end what to do in the matter. The government was therefore asked for instructions, and an order was issued that the bodies should be wrapped in coarse mats, and that (after the performance over them of a brief religious ceremony) they should be conveyed in boats to the Bay of Yedo and sunk in the sea.

This we read in the Shokio Kanki, and we may judge from the virulence of the disease that it was quite different from ordinary fever. We are inclined to think that it was what we now caU cholera, and that this was the first appearance of the pest in our Toyoashihara [“fertile, sweet flag-plain,” Japan]. We, however, invite an expression of opinion from antiquarians.

Again, in the fifth year of Ansei, (2518, era of Jimmu), during the reign of Komio Tenno, and at the time when Iyeshige was Shogun [A. D. 1850], an epidemic prevailed in Yedo, as many persons will recollect. This disease first manifested itself in the neighborhood of Akasaka, in the beginning of the 7th month of that year; according to some, it was brought from the Tokai-do. Reiganjima became infected, and soon it-spread in all directions.

During the first half of the 8th month the epidemic raged most furiously. At the gates of every temple there were hills of coffins; the men who worked at the cremation furnaces in the evening were themselves changed into smoke the next morning, and the tombstone cutter of one day found his own name carved on a stone on the morrow. The panic among the populace beggared description. The epidemic was regarded with even far greater dread, by both high and low than is the prevailing one in this 12th year of Meiji, for medical knowledge was in such a crude state that no one was able to ascertain the cause of the disease, and the people could do nothing but sit down in dread suspense and await the approach of death.

The disease was generally attributed to diabolical agency; hence the people gave it the name of “Ko-ro-ri,” that is, “fox, wolf, and badger.” It was also believed that all water and all fish were poisoned, so that people dared not draw water, even from the pure stream of the Upper Tamagawa, nor eat any fresh fish, even when it was brought to their doors alive. Each one adorned his gate with branches of pine and bamboo, and straw ropes, and prayed that so dreadful a year might pass away as quickly as possible; some praying to the Kami and some to Buddha. The whole city was filled with horror and dismay, and a state of things existed to which that in Osaka at the present time bears but a faint resemblance.

If we may believe the “Ri-riu-koki” or “Record of the Ravages of Dysentery,” which was published in the 9th month of the 5th year of Ansei, there were then in Yedo, 1,775,215 houses, and a population of 7,101,318. The disease was most virulent between the 1st and the 30th of the 8th month, during which space of time the number of deaths was 12,492, as appears from the” “statistics of death reported to the government daily.” Besides these, 18,737 persons, whose names had not been properly registered at the ward offices, died. For the first three or four days in the beginning of the 9th month there were 50 or 60 deaths daily; after that the number gradually decreased, and at length the disease entirely disappeared, and tranquillity was once more restored.

Amongst those who fell victims to the scourge were the following celebrated men: Odake Shoto and Ichikawa Beian, the famous penmen; Riokutei Seurin, Riukatei Tanekadzu, and Rakutei Seiba, the novelists; Seian Seiba, the poet; Rissai Hiroshige, the painter; Ichiriusai Teizan, the story-teller; Kiyomobo Enju and Kirieya Rokuzayemon, the music-masters; Takaragawa Ishogqro, the wrestler; and Onoye Hoshinosuke, the actor; besides many other men famous at the time.

Even in the present age, the era of civilization, there is no infallible remedy for the dreadful disease, its origin being not yet well understood, owing to its violent nature and the danger attendant on an analysis and microscopical examination of the matter thrown out by the patient. There are, however, medicines sufficiently good for disinfecting purposes; and even when a person is attacked by the true cholera, his life may be saved it the services of a skilled physician be secured at once. Besides, there are [Page 670] shoshangin (?) and morphine, which are reported to have the virtue of curing the disease.

But in the period of Ansei even the name of the disease was not known; naturally, the proper remedy was unknown, and the people had no alternative hut to lie down and patiently await the approach of death.

At the present time, however, there are not a few persons who make light of the disease and pay no attention to the kind advice and good treatment of the government, thereby often making themselves a medium for the spread of the disease, and thus causing calamity and misfortune among society, Such persons are in no better condition than those who lived in the period of Ansei.

Thus whole families often depart together for the dark world, to our great lament. Sanitary measures and other necessary precautions are now undertaken by the government, and the people have nothing to do but obey its orders and take care of their health. Even in the period of Ansei certain precautions were observed, so that those who ignore the sanitary regulations made by the present government of Meiji are not only offenders against it, but also against the late Bakufu. We give below a copy of a notification issued by the Bakufu in the fifth year of Ansei, that our readers may learn what measures were taken to combat the disease at that time:

“For the prevailing disease of sudden purging there are various methods of treatment, among which the undermentioned is notified for the benefit of the people. In the way of precaution, avoid exposing your body to cold air, always wear a cotton belt around your abdomen, be careful to avoid gluttony and excessive drinking, and the eating of indigestible food. If symptoms of the disease appear go to bed, be extremely careful of what you eat and drink, keep the whole body warm, and take the medicine called hoko-san, as prescribed below. Many valuable lives have been saved by it alone. If you vomit and purge much, and your body becomes cold, put 2 monme of refined camphor into 2 go of spirit (sho-chic), warm the mixture over the fire, dip a cotton cloth in it, and rub the body and limbs briskly; then put a mustard plaster over the stomach every half hour. To make hoko-san, mix together powdered cinnamon, yekichi, and dried ginger, in equal quantities, and boil; drink at intervals one or two cupfuls at a time.

“To prepare the mustard plaster, mix together powdered mustard seeds and wheat en flour, pour in vinegar, and mix well; spread the mass over a cotton cloth and apply to the stomach. In urgent cases, when time is precious, use mustard only, mixing it with hot water.

“Another medicine: Into a certain measure of hot tea pour about one-third the quantity of spirit, add a little sugar and drink. The patient must shut himself up in a close room and rub his body with a cotton cloth that has been soaked in spirit. If his extremities are cold warm them with hot stones until he perspires.

“The above is a course of treatment which may be applied with benefit in the case of any one attacked by the prevailing disease. This is notified to all.

“Eighth month of the year of the Horse.”—[Hiogo news, translation.]