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even the strident shouts of the sellers. But it is a Japanese
crowd. One that marvellously succeeds in preserving in
the mass the politeness which one always obtains from the
individual. There is no pushing, no hustling, no sounds of
imprecations, no sense of stress and struggle to obtain the
best positions to see the many interesting things which are

In the thick of the crowd one finds the sellers of the
long white rods, which are peeled hempsticks, of which
the thin ends are usually broken up into hashi for the
beloved ghosts, and the rest burned in the mukaebi or
welcoming fires.

" Ogara I Ogara-ya ! " cry the sellers of the sheaves of
white rods, and the poorer people buy them. The rich
use the pine branches, which are the prescribed wood, but
which from their scarcity are too costly for the poor in
many parts of Japan.

There are also to be seen the vendors of the lotus
flowers and leaves. The former for the beautification of
the altars and tombs ; the latter used for wrapping up the


food for the returned spirits. Hasu-no-hana is the cry
which attracts the attention of would-be purchasers. A soft
cry, which seems to plead for admiration of the exquisite
blossoms as they stand upon the stalls in great bunches,
supported by bamboo framework.

Then there is an immense sale for the karawake or.
shallow dishes of red, unglazed earthenware, in which ate—
placed the food for the beloved ghosts. These are of a
pattern so old that Buddha himself found it existent ; now
only used for this one kind of pottery.

Other things which will be found in every market on
the night before Bommatsuri are the beautiful scarlet and
white tassels made of strings of rice grains, looking like
fine bead-work. Exquisite paper decorations for the
batsuma. Sticks of incense; long, brittle, chocolate-coloured
rods about as thick as a thin slate pencil. Of all qualities
and at all prices, from a few sen to a yen for a bundle ; all
tied together with strips of coloured and gilt paper.

At other stalls will be found the sprigs and branches of
misohagi, and of shikimi (anise) ; and at yet others the
freshly woven mats of rice straw, gleaming white and spot-
less, for use in front of the batsumas and upon the altars.
Here, too, are the warauma, or little horses made of straw,
which a fanciful people provide for the beloved ghosts to
ride ; and waraushi, or tiny oxen, made of the same material,
which will work for them.

But of all things, perhaps the most wonderful as well
as beautiful are the " Bon " lanterns ; made especially to
light the feet of the shortly returning ghosts. They are of
all shapes and sizes ; some like stars that will glow with
the steady light of planets in the dark firmament of temple
courts and gardens ; others hexagonal like the lanterns of
the shrines ; some will hang like luminous eggs ; and yet
others will be of the shape of flowers. On their paper sides
artists have traced exquisite drawings of lotus blooms, and


most are further beautified with long streamers of white or
fringes of coloured paper. The great white moon-shaped
lanterns, which shed a soft, silvery effulgence, are for use
in the cemeteries.

Then there are sellers of all kinds of artificial flowers,
which in their beautiful trickery of making deceive one into
a belief in their reality. Lotus and chrysanthemum blooms ;
the leaves, the buds, and the blossoms.

But this strange market is not alone for things for the
use of the beloved ghosts. Into it have pressed other
traders (what wonder?) who do a brisk business in crickets,
confined in tiny cages of bamboo ; fire-flies in others covered
with brown mosquito netting. There are toys too, of various
kinds ; but the chief trade is in the hands of those who cater
for the shadowy visitors of the morrow and two succeeding

The neighbouring temple, which at dusk stood up
silhouetted, as though cut out of grey-black paper, against
the lemon-coloured sky, will long ere the market throngs
become illuminated by hundreds of beautiful lanterns ;
many of them shaped like gigantic lotus flowers, so exqui-
sitely perfect in every detail that they look like radiant
pinky-white real blossoms, lighted by the tiny oil-lamp of
baked clay which glows in their hearts.

Soon the resonant clanging of the temple gong draws
crowds of worshippers up the flights of steps leading to the
temple. To-night is not only the Market of the Dead, but
the festival of Yakushi-Nyora, who is the Physician of Souls.

Up the temple steps throughout the land will crowd
the faithful to cast their offerings into the great alms-chests,
and to send up prayers. The clang of geta and komageta
on the stone steps and flags of the courtyards of the
temples, drowning the hum of voices and the prattle of
delighted little ones carried by their parents or elder sisters
and brothers, amid the exquisite glow of many lanterns.


The living stream will go on until the lights in the
street, where the Market of the Dead is, begin to shine less
brightly as they flicker out one by one, which is a sign
that the homeward journey must be commenced, for there
are three days of solemn festival rites to come.

But to witness the Bommatsuri itself in its most pictur-
esque and impressive form, it is nowadays necessary to
journey into the more remote villages ; for although the
feast is still one of the most important in the cities, it is
in the villages that it is carried out with the most ancient
and picturesque rites. And of all observances of Bom-
matsuri those in the villages on the shores of the Inland
Sea are the most affecting in their picturesque and poetical
beauty and naive simplicity.

In many portions of the Empire the different families
visit the graveyards on the day previous to the commence-
ment of the festival, to clean the tombstones and put the
graves in order, so that the returning ghosts may find
everything well cared for. Flowers in fresh water are
placed in front of each tombstone, and sometimes also
offerings of rice and fresh vegetables. And early in the
morning of the 13th of July, new mats of purest rice straw,
woven especially for the occasion, are spread upon all Bud-
dhist altars, and within each butsuma or butsudan, the tiny
household shrine before which each morning and evening
prayers are offered up in every believing home.

The temple altars and shrines are also beautifully em-
bellished with colour paper, and with flowers and sprigs of
certain sacred plants — freshly gathered branches of shikimi
(anise), misohagi (lespideza), and real lotus blossoms when
they can be procured. But if for any reason the latter are
unobtainable, then imitation paper ones are substituted,
which are often made with such perfection of art as at a
little distance to be quite undistinguishable from the reality.
Upon the altar itself a tiny lacquered zen — a table such as


Japanese meals are served on — is placed, and the offerings
of food are put upon it. But in the smaller domestic
shrines it is more usually the custom to place the offerings
upon the rice matting wrapped in fresh-gathered lotus
leaves. Sometimes the offerings are only O-sho-gin-gu,
or Honourable Uncooked Food ; at others, and more fre-
quently, they are O-rio-gu, or Honourable Boiled Food.
Various things are comprised in these two classes of offer-
ings : foods resembling vermicelli ; gozen, which is a kind
of boiled rice ; egg-plant ; and dango> a kind of small dump-
ling. To which are frequently added peaches, plums, and
other fruits. Neither fish, meats, or saki are offered.
Fresh water is placed for the use of the shadowy guests,
and is also from time to time sprinkled upon the altar, and
within the shrine by means of a branch oimisohagi. Every
hour tea is served ; and everything is placed daintily in
tiny plates, cups and bowls, with chopsticks laid beside
them as for living visitors. And thus for three days the
shadowy ghosts of returned ancestors are lovingly enter-

At sunset, torches made of pine branches are lit before
every dwelling to light and guide the beloved returning
ghosts. And sometimes when the town or village is
situated near the shore of the sea or of a lake, or on the
banks of a river, on the first night of the festival mukabei,
or welcome fires, are lit upon the shore or bank to the
number of one hundred and eight. Never more nor less,
as this number possesses a mystic Buddhist significance.
Every night the most beautiful of lanterns of special shape
and colours, exquisitely adorned with paintings of land-
scapes or flowers, and always decorated by a distinctive
fringe made of paper streamers, are hung at the entrance
gates of the homes. And on the same night those who
have dead relatives or friends betake themselves to the
cemeteries, bearing offerings ; and there they kneel beside


the graves of the unforgotten dead, praying and burning
incense. Before the tombs lanterns are also hung, but
these have no figures painted upon them ; and flowers are
placed in the vases of bamboo and set beside each haka,
and fresh water is poured out for the ghosts.

In some of the country districts the Bommatsuri cele-
brations take place in the middle of August. On the night
of the 1 2th one hears the sounds of children's voices sing-
ing, as bands of them, bearing red paper lanterns, come
trooping down the narrow winding streets on their way to
the graveyards, where their elders are already at work
upon the annual cleaning and tidying of the tombs of their
ancestors and friends. As the night goes on bonfires
illumine the shadow-haunted cemeteries, where often giant
cryptomerias loom still more gigantic in the flickering light
of the fires which have been lit to guide the returning
spirits. Then on each of the succeeding nights, in many
places in Japan, it is the custom for all the young people
of the particular village to forgather in the courtyard of the
temple in grotesque costumes and disguises, and dance to
music produced by drums and other primitive instruments,
whilst they themselves sing a monotonous chant.

These three nights in the year are anticipated by the
peasant girls and peasant lads with great delight, for the
festival provides one of the very few occasions during the
year on which the sexes meet together for mutual enjoy-
ment. And though the Government, fearing that abuses
might grow up out of this almost unique occasion of social
intercourse, have sought of recent times to suppress it, in
the more rural spots the custom survives, and even still
flourishes in places, although the dancing is conducted with
greater decorousness than formerly through dread of police
interference, and even possible prohibition.

The main object of these dances — excluding the enjoy-
ment of the young people — is the amusement of the spirits


of the departed ancestors, who are believed to be hovering
in the temple courtyard precincts.

At every hotel in the country districts where travellers
or tourists are staying at Bommatsuri, the proprietor will
arrange some form of entertainment, generally a professional
story-teller, geisha, or a company of strolling musicians, to
which all those staying in the house will be invited* And
to which every villager, who can by hook or by crook
manage to get a foothold sufficiently near to either hear
or see what is going on, will crowd. The open house fronts
are, of course, all in favour of a large audience, and at such
times the village street, or the hotel garden or courtyard,
will be thronged with spectators, and from within the house
can be seen a living sea of deeply interested faces, across
which pass in quick succession all the varied emotions of
pleasure, merriment, horror, or grief which the elocu-
tionary art of the story-teller, or the plaintive or humorous
singing of the musicians, or beautiful dancing of the geisha,

At sunset, on the last day of the festival, only the offer-
ings known as segaki are made in the temples. Then,
amid the fading light, which casts long shadows over the
courtyards of the temples and scarcely illumines the in-
teriors even dimly, the priests perform the touching cere-
mony of feeding the ghosts of the terrible Circle of
Penance, which is known as Gakido, or the Abode of the
Hungry Spirits. They also feed the ghosts of those who
have no longer living friends to care for them, out of the
charity of generous and tender, faithful souls. And though
the offerings are small — like those miniature feasts spread
before the gods on the butsudan — the spirit which actuates
the gifts, when there are so many other calls upon the re-
sources of the living, must surely go far to consecrate

The origin of this gracious custom lies far back in the


ages, when one Dai-Mokenren, the great disciple of
Buddha, was by reason of his great merit permitted to see
the soul of his mother in Gakido, or the place of the spirits
condemned to suffer hunger for the sins of their previous
life. When Mokenren saw his mother's sufferings he was
greatly distressed, and, filling a bowl with the choicest foods,
he sent it to her. But although she sought to refresh her-
self, whenever she lifted the food to her mouth it changed
into fire. Then Mokenren, still more grieved, inquired of
Buddha what he could do so that his mother might be
spared from further torment. In reply Buddha said, " On
the fifteenth day of the seventh month feed the ghosts of
the great priests of the whole world." For Mokenren's
mother when living had sinned by refusing food to priests
in her miserliness. When Mokenren had done this he was
permitted to see his mother was no longer in a state of
gate, but was dancing for joy.

And it is in commemoration of this act of Dai-Mokenren
that the offerings called segaki are even now made, and the
dances known as bon-odori are performed on the evening
of the same day throughout Japan.

But upon the night of the 15th of July, the third
and last of the Festival of the Dead, there is a still more
pathetic, strange, and touching ceremonial, that of fare-
well. Everything that can be done to please the dead —
who in the persons of the beloved returning ghosts have
hovered impalpable and unseen, though felt in the grave-
yards of the hillsides, amid the pines and stately crypto-
merias, and where, in some cases, in due season the petals
of glossy-leaved camellias will have fallen a blood-red,
pink, or snowy shower upon their moss-grown tombs —
has been accomplished by the living. The time allowed
by the rulers of the unseen worlds for the visits of the
spirits to their former earthly dwellings and haunts has
nearly expired, and now all that remains to be done is for


their friends to speed them sorrowfully back to the spirit

The preparations have been made in every home, where
may be found tiny ships of closely woven barley straw laden
with choicest food, and beautified with tiny lanterns, and
written messages of faith and love. Into these frail craft —
never large, for the beloved ghosts require little room— are
woven a world of affectionate sentiment and mystical mean-
ing. And whilst the bonfires still burn and the lanterns
are glowing softly in the streets of a myriad towns and
villages throughout Japan, these tiny ships are launched on
lakes, canals, and rivers, and sent on their voyage from the
seashore around the coast, each one with its little lantern
shining, like a fire-fly or glow-worm, at the prow, and senko
burning with a heavy, lasting perfume in the stern. Thus
do the phantom fleets float glimmering towards the open
sea, which at length shines with the countless lights of the
dead, whilst the air grows fragrant with the smoke of
smouldering incense.

Other festivals there are of a more or less religious or
semi-religious character ; but none so beautiful, pathetic,
and strangely impressive as that of Bommatsuri. Curious,
indeed, to the Western mind is the moveable feast known
as the Setsubun, with its Oni-yari or casting out of devils.
On the eve of the festival through the streets of the
villages and towns one hears the rattle of the Yaku-otoshi's
shakujo or staff as he goes from house to house crying out,
" Oni wa soto, Oni wa sotof Fuku wa uchi! " or " Devils
out ! Good-fortune comes in ! " The shakujo which he
carries, though shorter, is a curiously shaped staff like that
which Jizo carries — the god to whom the souls of little
children run for comfort when frightened by the demons or
Oni. It is Jizo who hides the poor affrighted little souls
in the great sleeves of his kimono, and comforts them and
makes the demons go away. In the Sai-no-Kawara, to


which all children must go after death, the souls of little
ones are compelled to erect miniature towers of stones as a
penance, and it is these the Oni (demons) take pleasure in
destroying. Thus it is that every stone laid upon the
knees, or at the feet of an image of Jizo — the pronuncia-
tion of which has a strange though purely accidental re-
semblance to the word Jesu — with a prayer coming from
the heart is believed to assist some little child-soul in Sai-
no-Kawara to perform its penance. There are many other
forms of the Jizo idea ; and as he is also the patron divinity
of pilgrims, there are statues of him by most Japanese

The caster-out of devils, whose staff is like that of Jizo,
performs his office for a very small fee, and for this
reason, perhaps, finds many ready and even willing to
employ him. If the devils be not there after all, what
matter ? There is little harm done, and the few sen or rin
will have been expended in a good cause. The exercising
words are simply some taken from a Buddhist kyo or sutra,
the recital of which is accompanied by the rattling of the
staff. Then dried peas are scattered about the house,
which act is supposed to be distasteful to devils. These
peas are afterwards swept up and carefully kept until the
first clap of spring thunder is heard ; when, for some mys-
terious reason, it is the custom to cook and eat some of

It is the custom, too, after the devils have been satis-
factorily cast out, to place a small charm above all
the entrances of the dwelling to prevent their return. A
stick of about nine inches long and a little thinner than
a lead pencil, a holly leaf, and the dried head of an iwashi
(sardine-like fish), comprise the articles used in making
these charms. The stick is stuck through the centre of
the holly-leaf, and the fish's head secured in a fork made
by splitting one end of the stick, the other end of which


is stuck in some joint in the timber work above the door.
Not even the Japanese themselves seem to know why
the holly-leaf and fish possess such potent powers against
the return of the evil spirits ; and, indeed, the origins of
many of the most curious and interesting Japanese cus-
toms have been entirely forgotten even by the people
who still profess to believe in them.

Another quaint and interesting observance connected
with the Setsubun Festival is the purchase and use of
the hitogata, which are little figures of men, women and
children cut out in white paper. These are sold at
Setsubun time in the Shinto temples. One is bought
for each member of the family, and upon each hitogata
the age and sex of the person for whom it is intended is
written by the priest. The little figures are then taken
home, and each person after receiving his or her hitogata
lightly rubs it on his or her body while saying a short
Shinto prayer. On the following day the hitogata are
returned to the priest, who, after the recital over them
of certain phrases, burns them in a holy fire. By this
act the people to whom the hitogata belong are expected
to escape all illness or accident during the year.

Among the more domestic festivals of Japan, that con-
secrated more especially to the girls — the Festival of the
Dolls — is one of the most interesting and picturesque.
The Festival of O Hina, or the M Honourable Little
People," takes place upon the 3rd of March ; and on this
one day of the year the Japanese girls and their dolls
reign supreme throughout the length and breadth of the
Mikado's Empire.

Long before the wonderful day, in the homes of the
rich and poor alike where daughters are, preparations have
been made. The fireproof doors of the kura in every
town and village have been thrown open, so that the
u honourable little people " who have dwelt in darkness


for a year past, and all the articles of miniature furniture
for their use may be unpacked from their cases and set
out in the chamber especially prepared for their re-

All kinds of food are prepared for the festival : special
rice, baked with beans and sugar ; cakes, and shirosake,
a particular kind of thick, white, and very sweet wine,
only drunk by the girls and their friends at this season.
All these things the daughters of the household are sup-
posed to prepare and cook ; and then attired in their
best mon-tsuki, or dress of ceremony, on which is em-
broidered the crest of the family in the middle of the back
and sleeves, they are ready to receive their friends.

Each girl of the family has a pair of O Hina Sama
placed for her upon the red-covered shelf, on the first
Feast of Dolls which comes after her birth. When she
goes from her old home as a bride she takes the dolls
with her, and the first feast after her marriage she ob-
serves with special ceremonies. This she is by custom
obliged to keep up until she has a daughter old enough
to do so for herself.

In the shops for some time previous to the festival
dolls of all kinds are set out tastefully for sale ; sets of
them forming a group or family being placed in small
or large wooden boxes and sold complete.

In the streets of every town and village throughout
the Empire there are also shops which for the time being
are devoted to supplying all the various kinds of furniture
and household utensils for the dolls' use. Is it necessary
to add that they do a thriving trade? and that outside
all such shops are gathered, almost from sunrise to sunset,
groups of wide-eyed, charming Japanese children, who, if
they cannot afford all of them to buy, yet gain untold
pleasure from the mere contemplation of the beautiful
dolls and other articles for the festival ?


Shopping becomes universal, and happy groups of
parents and children throng the streets all day long pur-
chasing tansu (miniature chests of drawers), the trays,
bowls, vases, and other articles for the dolls' house.
Bridal furniture is distinguished as being the most beauti-
fully made in black lacquer ; with the fastenings, handles
of wardrobe and cupboard doors made of some bright
gold-coloured metal.

There are dolls of all prices to suit all pockets, and; the
vendors of "the honourable little people" use their per-
suasive tongues and arts of flattery (as do the shopkeepers
of other climes) in endeavours to persuade the mothers
and fathers of the little girls to purchase something better
than they at first contemplated.

Seated on the raised matting-covered floor of the shops
the sellers are literally surrounded by boxes of dolls of all
kinds. A Mikado and Empress may be purchased for as
little as half a yen, or may cost five or six yen and more.
A set of geisha dolls, musicians and dancers, can be had
from a yen to five or six yen. Soldier and sailor dolls
range in price from ten sen to a yen. Of course, baby dolls
and ordinary folk are to be bought for a few sen upwards.

The poorest child must have her O Hina, and the
poorest parent must be able to buy. Rich people spend
really immense sums upon a complete set. Sometimes as
much as four or five hundred yen (^"40 to £*p\ and in the
houses of the upper classes the Festival of Dolls is truly
a wonderful celebration. Not only are there the new-
comers amongst the dolls, but the priceless heirlooms
which have amused the little girls of the family (and the
larger ones too) through many successive generations.
But there are even in so large a city as Tokyo only three
or four large manufactories of these special dolls and dolls'
furniture. Dolls of the ordinary kind are, of course, made
in enormous numbers all the year round, and are procur-

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Online LibraryClive HollandOld and new Japan → online text (page 10 of 23)