Japanese and Their Earthen Jars Icon

April 30, 2022

From Nága I visited the cura of Libmánan (Ligmanan) who:

  • had poetical talent and a reputation of a natural philosopher
  • collected and named pretty beetles and shells
  • dedicated the most elegant little sonnets.

He favoured me with the following narrative :

In 1851, during the construction of a road a little beyond Libmánan, at a place called Poro, a bed of shells was dug up under 4 feet of mould, 100 feet distant from the river.

It consisted of Cyrenæ (C. suborbicularis, Busch.), a species of bivalve belonging to the family of Cyclades which occurs only in warm waters, and is extraordinarily abundant in the brackish waters of the Philippines.

On the same occasion, at the depth of from one and a half to three and a half feet, were found numerous remains of the early inhabitants—skulls, ribs, bones of men and animals, a child’s thigh-bone inserted in a spiral of brass wire, several sťags’ horns, beautifully-formed dishes and vessels, some of them painted, probably of Chinese origin; striped bracelets, of a soft, gypseous, copper-red rock, glancing as if they were varnished ;* small copper knives, but no iron utensils ; and several broad flat stones bored through the middle ; † besides a wedge of petrified wood, embedded in a cleft branch of a tree. The place, which to this day may be easily recognised in a hollow, might, by excavation systematically carried on, yield many more interesting results.

What was not immediately useful was then and there destroyed, and the remainder dispersed. In spite of every endeavour, I could obtain, through the kindness of Herr Fociños in Nága, only one small vessel. Similar remains of more primitive inhabitants have been found at the mouth of the Bígajo, not far from Libmánan, in a shellbed of the same kind ; and an urn, with a human skeleton, was found at the mouth of the Pérlos, west of Sítio de Póro, in 1840. At the time when I wrote down these statements of the pastor, neither of us was familiar with the discoveries made within the last few years relating to the lake dwellings (pile villages) ; or these notes might have been more exact, although probably they would not have been so easy and natural.


  • Probably pot-stone, which is employed in China in the manufacture of cheap ornaments. Gypseous refers probably only to the degree of hardness.
  • In the Christy collection, in London, I saw a stone of this kind from the

A third of the size of the vessel represented ; wrich, with the exception of the base, is covered with a salad-green glaze.

Mr. W. A. Franks, who had the kindness to examine the vessel, inclines to the opinion that it is Chinese, and pronounces it to be of very great antiquity, without, however, being able to determine its age more exactly.

A learned Chinese of the Burlingame Embassy expressed himself to the same effect. He knew only of one article, now in the British Museum, which was brought from Japan by Kämpfer, the colour, glazing, and cracks in the glazing, of which (craquelés) corresponded precisely with mine.

According to Kämpfer, the Japanese found similar vessels in the sea. They value them very highly for preserving their tea in them.

Schiffer Islands, employed in a contrivance for the purpose of protection against rats and mice. A string being drawn through the stone, one end of it is suspended from the ceiling of the room, and the objects to be preserved hang from the other. A knot in the middle of the string prevents its sliding below that point, and, every touch drawing it from its equilibrium, it is impossible for rats to climb upon it. A similar contrivance used in the Viti Islands, but of wood, is figured in the Atias to Dumont D’Urville’s “ Voyage to the South Pole" (i. 95).

Morga writes :

“On this island, Luzon, particularly in the provinces of Manila, Pampanga, Pangasinan, and Ylócos, very ancient clay vessels of a dark brown colour are found by the natives, of a sorry appearance; some of a middling size, and others smaller ; marked with characters and stamps. They are unable to say either when or where they obtained them ; but they are no longer to be acquired, nor are they manufactured in the islands. The Japanese prize them highly, for they have found that the root of a herb which they call Tscha (tea), and which when drunk hot is considered as a great delicacy and of medicinal efficacy by the kings and lords in Japan, cannot be effectively preserved except in these vessels; which are so highly esteemed all over Japan that they form the most costly articles of their show-rooms and cabinets. They value them so highly that they overlay them externally with fine gold embossed with great skill, and enclose them in cases of brocade. Some of these vessels are valued at and fetch from 2,000 tael to 11 reals. The natives of these islands purchase them from the Japanese at very high rates, and take much pains in the search for them on account of their value, though but few are now found on account of the eagerness with which they have been sought for."

In 1597, Carletti went from the Philippines to Japan. The passengers on board were examined by order of the governor and threatened with capital punishment if they concealed certain earthen vessels which were wont to be brought from the Philippines as the king wished to buy them all.. These vessels were worth as much as 5,000 to 10,000 scudi each. But they were not permitted to demand for them more than one Giulio (about a half Paolo).”

In 1615, Carletti met with a Franciscan who was sent as ambassador from Japan to Rome, who assured him that he had seen 130,000 scudi paid by the king of Japan for such a vessel.

Carletti also alleges, as the reason for the high price, “ that the leaf cia or tea, the quality of which improves with age, is preserved better in those vessels than in all others. The Japanese besides know these vessels by certain characters and stamps.

They are of great age and very rare, and come only from:

  • Cambodia
  • Siam
  • South Vietnam
  • other neighbouring islands.

From their external appearance they would be estimated at 3-4 quatrini (two dreier).

The king and princes of Japan:

  • have many of these vessels
  • prize them as their most valuable treasure and above all other rarities
  • boast of their acquisitions
  • from motives of vanity strive to outvie one another in the number of pretty vessels which they possess."*

Many travellers mention vessels found likewise amongst the Dyaks and the Malays in Borneo, which, from superstitious motives, were estimated at most exaggerated figures, amounting sometimes to many thousand dollars.

St. John † relates that the Datu of Tamparuli (Borneo) gave rice to the value of almost £700 for a jar, and that he possessed a second jar of almost fabulous value, which was about two feet high, and of a dark olive green.

The Datu fills both jars with water, which, after adding plants and flowers to it, he dispenses to all the sick persons in the country. But the most famous jar in Borneo is that of the Sultan of Brunei, which not only possesses all the valuable properties of the other jars but can also speak.

St. John did not see it, as it is always kept in the women’s apartment; but the sultan, a credible man, related to him that the jar howled dolefully the night before the death of his first wife, and that it emitted similar tones in the event of impending misfortunes. St. John is inclined to explain the mysterious phenomenon by a probably peculiar form of the mouth of the vessel, in passing over which the air-draught is thrown into resonant verberations, like the Æolian harp. The vessel is generally enveloped in gold brocade, and is uncovered only when it is to be consulted ; and hence, of course, it happens that it speaks only on solemn occasions. St. John states further that the Bisayans used formerly to bring presents to the sultan ; in recognition of which they received some water from the sacred jar to sprinkle over their fields and thereby ensure plentiful harvests. When the sultan was asked whether he would sell his jar for £20,000, he answered that no offer in the world could tempt him to part with it.

  • “ Carletti’s Voyages," ii. 11. + Life in the Forests of the Far East," i. 300.

Morga’s description suits neither the vessel of Libmánan nor the jar of the British Museum, but rather a vessel brought from Japan a short time ago to our Ethnographical Museum. This is of brown clay, small but of graceful shape, and composed of many pieces cemented together; the joints being gilt and forming a kind of network on the dark ground.

How highly ancient pots of a similar kind, even of native origin, are esteemed in Japan down to the present day, is shown by the following certificate translated by the interpreter of the German Consulate :


“This earthen vessel was found in the porcelain factory of Tschisuka in the province of Odori, in South Idzumi, and is an object belonging to the thousand graves . . . It was made by Giogiboosat (a celebrated Buddhist priest), and after it had been consecrated to heaven was buried by him. According to the traditions of the people, this place held grave mounds with memorial stones. That is more than a thousand years ago. . . . In the pursuit of my studies, I remained many years in the temple Sookuk, of that village, and found the vessel. I carried it to the high priest Shakudjo, who was much delighted therewith and always bore it about with him as a treasure. When he died it fell to me, although I could not find it. Recently, when Honkai was chief priest, I saw it again, and it was as if I had again met the spirit of Shakudjo. Great was my commotion, and I clapped my hands with astonishment; and, as often as I look upon the treasure, I think it is a sign that the spirit of Shakudjo is returned to life. Therefore I have written the history, and taken care, of this treasure. Fudi Kuz Dodjin.”

Baron Alexander von Siebold communicates the following:

The value which the Japanese attach to vessels of this kind rests upon the use which is made of them by the mysterious tea societies called “ Cha-no-yu.” Respecting the origin of these societies, which still are almost entirely unknown to Europeans, different legends exist. They flourished, however, principally during the reign of the emperor Taikosama, who, in the year 1588, furnished the society of Cha-no-yu at Kitano near Myako with new laws.

In consequence of the religious and civil wars, the whole of the people had deteriorated and become ungovernable, having lost all taste for art and knowledge, and holding only rude force in any esteem; brute strength ruling in the place of the laws. The observant Taikosama perceived that, in order to tame these rough natures, he must accustom them to the arts of peace, and thus secure prosperity to the country, and safety for himself and his successors. With this view he recalled the Cha-no-yu society anew into life, and assembled its masters and those acquainted with its customs around him.

The object of the Cha-no-yu is to draw man away from the influences of the terrestrial forces which surround him, to plant within him the feeling of complete repose, and to dispose him to self-contemplation. All the exercises of the Cha-no-yu are directed to this object.

Clothed in light white garments, and without weapons, the members of the Cha-no-yu assemble round the master’s house, and, after resting some time in the ante-room, are conducted into a pavilion appropriated exclusively to these assemblies. This consists of the most costly kinds of wood, but is without any ornament which could possibly be abstracted from it; without colour, and without varnish, dimly lighted by small windows thickly overgrown with plants, and so low that it is impossible to stand upright.

The guests tread the apartment with solemn measured steps, and, having been received by him according to the prescribed formulas, arrange themselves in a half-circle on both sides of him. All distinctions of rank are abolished. The ancient vessels are now removed with solemn ceremonies from their wrappings, saluted and admired; and, with the same solemn and rigidly prescribed formulas, the water is heated on the hearth appropriated to the purpose, and the tea taken from the vessels and prepared in cups.

The tea consists of the young green leaves of the tea-shrub rubbed to powder, and is very stimulating in its effect. The beverage is taken amidst deep silence, while incense is burning on the elevated pedestal of honour,“ toko ;” and, after the thoughts have thus been collected, conversation begins. It is confined to abstract subjects; but politics are not always excluded.

The value of the vessels employed in these assemblages is very considerable ; indeed, they do not fall short of the value of our most costly paintings; and Taikosama often rewarded his generals with vessels of the kind, instead of land, as was formerly the practice. After the last revolution some of the more eminent Daimios (princes) of the Mikado were rewarded with similar Cha-no-yu vessels, in acknowledgment of the aid rendered to him in regaining the throne of his ancestors.

The best of them which I have seen were far from beautiful, simply being old, weather-worn, black or dark-brown jars, with pretty broad necks, for storing the tea in ; tall cups of cracked Craquelé, either porcelain or earthenware, for drinking the infusion; and deep, broad cisterns; besides rotten old iron kettles with rings, for heating the water : but they were enwrapped in the most costly silken stuffs, and preserved in chests lacquered with gold. Similar old vessels are preserved amongst the treasures of the Mikado and the Tycoon, as well as in some of the temples, with all the care due to the most costly jewels, together with documents relating to their history.

From Libmánan I visited the mountain, Yámtik (Amtik, Hantu),* which consists of lime, and contains many caverns. Six hours westward by water, and one hour S.S.W. on foot, brought us to the Visita Bícal, surrounded by a thousand little limestone hills; from which we ascended by a staircase of sinter in the bed of a brook, to a small cavern tenanted by multitudes of bats, and great long-armed spiders of the species Phrynus, known to be poisonous.t

A thick branch of a tree lying across the road was perforated from end to end by a small ant. Many of the natives did not venture to enter the cave; and those who did enter it were in a state of great agitation, and were careful first to enjoin upon each other the respect to be observed by them towards Calapnitan.

One of the principal rules was to name no object in the cave

  • According to Father Camel (“Philosoph. Trans. London,” vol. xxvi. p. 246), hantu means black ants the size of a wasp; amtig, smaller black; and hantic, red ants.

† According to Dr. Gerstacker, probably Phrynus Grayi Walek Gerv., bringing forth alive. “S. Sitzungsb. Ges. Naturf. Freunde, Berl.” 18th March, 1862, and pourtrayed and described in G. H. Broun, “ Ord. Class.," vol. v. 184.

#Calapnit, Tayal and Bicol, the bat; calapnitan, consequently, lord of the bats.

without adding “Lord Calapnitan’s.” Thus they did not bluntly refer to either gun or torch, but devoutly said “Lord C.’s gun," or “Lord C.’s torch.” At a thousand paces from this lies another cave, “San Vicente,” which contains the same insects, but another kind of bat. Both caves are only of small extent; but in Libmánan a very large stalactite cave was mentioned to me, the description of which, notwithstanding the fables mixed up with it, could not but have a true foundation. Our guides feigned ignorance of it; and it was not till after two days’ wandering about, and after many debates, that they came to the decision, since I adhered to my purpose, to encounter the risk; when, to my great astonishment, they conducted me back to Calapnitan’s cave; from which a narrow fissure, hidden by a projection of rock, led into one of the most gorgeous stalactite caves in the world. Its floor was everywhere firm and easy to the tread, and mostly dry; and it ran out into several branches, the entire length of which probably exceeds a mile; and the whole series of royal chambers and cathedrals, with the columns, pulpits, and altars which it contained, reflected no discredit upon its description. No bones or other remains were to be found in it. My intention to return subsequently with labourers, for the purpose of systematic excavation, was not carried out.


I was not lucky enough to reach the summit of the mountain, upon which was to be found a lake, “whence the water formerly came here.” For two days we laboured strenuously at different points to penetrate the thick forest; but the conductor, who had assured the cura in Libmánan that he knew the road, now expressed himself to the contrary effect. I therefore made the fellow, who had hitherto been unburdened, now carry a part of the baggage as a punishment; but he threw it off at the next turning of the road and escaped, so that we were compelled to return. Stags and wild boars are very numerous in these forests; and they formed the principal portion of our meals, at which, at the commencement of our expedition, we had as many as thirty individuals; who, in the intervals between them, affected to search for snails and insects for me, but with success not proportionate to their zeal.

Upon my departure from Darága I took with me a lively little boy, who had a taste for the calling of a naturalist. In Libmánan he was suddenly lost, and with him, at the same time, a bundle of keys; and we looked for him in vain. The fact was, as I afterwards came to learn, that he went straight to Nága, and, justifying himself by showing the stolen keys, got the majordomo of my guest to deliver to him a white felt hat; with which he disappeared. I had once seen him, with the hat on his head, standing before a looking-glass and admiring himself; and he could not resist the temptation to steal it.

In the beginning of March I had the pleasure of accompanying the Minister (Administrador) of Camarines and a Spanish head-man, who were travelling across Daét and Mauban to the chief town. At five P.m. we left Butúngan on the Bícol River, two leagues below Nága, in a falúa of twelve oars, equipped with one 6-pounder and two 4-pounders, and reinforced by armed men; and about six we reached Cabusáo, at the mouth of the Bícol, whence we put to sea about nine. The falúa belonged to the administrator of taxes, and had, in conjunction with another under the command of the alcalde, to protect the north coast of the province against smugglers and pirates, who at this time of the year are accustomed to frequent the hiding-places of the bay of San Miguél. Two similar gun-boats performed the duty on the south coast of the province.

Both the banks of the Bicol River are flat, and expand into broad fields of rice; and to the east are simultaneously visible the beautiful volcanoes of Máyon, Yriga, Malinao, and Ysárog.

At daybreak we reached the bar of Daét, and, after two hours’ travelling, the similarly named chief city of the province of North Camarines, where we found an excellent reception at the house of the alcalde, a polished Navarrese ; marred only by the tame monkey, who should have welcomed the guests of his master,

Mountains of Bacacáy, from the Bar of Daét.

turning his back towards them with studiously uncourteous gestures, and going towards the door. However, upon the majordomo placing a spirit flask preserving a small harmless snake on

the threshold, the monkey sprang quickly back and concealed himself, trembling, behind his master.

In the evening there was a ball, but there were no dancers present. Some Indian women, who had been invited, sat bashfully at one end of the apartment and danced with one another when called upon, without being noticed by the Spaniards, who conversed together at the other end.

Our departure hence was delayed by festivities and sudden showers for about two days, after which the spirited horses of the alcalde carried us within an hour, on a level road north-west, to Talisay,

and in another hour to Indáng, where a An Indian Woman dancing

bath and breakfast were ready. Up to the Bulaqueña.

this time I had never seen a bath-room in the house of a Spaniard; whereas with the Northern Europeans it is never wanting. The Spaniards appear to regard the bath as a species of medicine, to be used only with caution; many, even to the present day, look upon it as an institution not quite Christian. At the time of the Inquisition frequent bathing, it is known, was a characteristic of the Moors, and certainly was not wholly free from danger. In Manila, only those who live near the Pásig are the exceptions to the rule; and there the bad practice prevails of whole families bathing, in the company of their friends, in the open air.

The road ended at Indáng, and at the well-supplied table of the amiable alcalde we awaited the horses which had been brought hither along a bad route by our servants. In the waste of Barre a castle, surrounded by two or three fishermen’s huts and as many casuarines, has been erected against the Moors, who, untempted by the same, seldom go so far westward, for it consists only of an open hut covered with palm-leaves—a kind of parasol—supported on stakes as thick as one’s arm and fifteen feet high ; and the two cannons belonging to it ought, for security, to be buried. We followed the sea-shore, which is composed of silicious sand, and covered with a carpet of creeping shore plants in full bloom. On the edge of the wood, to the left, were many flowering

shrubs and pandanus with large scarlet-red flowers. After an hour we crossed the river Lóngos in a ferry, and soon came to the spur of a crystalline chain of mountains, which barred our road and extended itself into the sea as Point Longos. The horses climbed it with difficulty, and we found the stream on the other side already risen so high that we rode knee-deep in the water. After sunset we crossed singly, with great loss of time, in a miserable ferry-boat, over the broad mouth of the Pulundága, where a pleasant road through a forest led us, in fifteen minutes, over the mountain-spur, Malangúit, which again projected itself right across our path into the sea, to the mouth of the Paracáli. The long bridge here was so rotten that we were obliged to lead the horses over at wide intervals apart ; and on the further side lies the place called Paracáli, from which my companions continued their journey across Mauban to Manila.


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