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able at any time in the usual toy-shops. But those for the
festival are only sold for about a fortnight previous to its
annual celebration.

Many children possess scores of different dolls, which
on the day of the festival are set out in the room reserved
for them in ingenious groups ; which indicate perhaps a
simple family party, a party of geisha dancing, a represen-
tation of the Imperial Court, with all the chief personages
from the Mikado and Empress downwards, in miniature,
or some scene in Japanese history.

The bride dolls have their trousseaux chests like real
brides ; only they are of exquisite lacquer instead of
imitation leather or wood, as with us. In these are laid
the most beautiful tiny silken kimono ; obi, which rival in
miniature the richness and colours of the real things ; futon,
under which the dolls can go to bed ; and all sorts of
elegant toys.

It will be easily gathered that in Japan, on the third
day of the third month in each year (if at no other time),
there are millions of happy little girls all taking part in this
interesting and ancient festival.

The origin of O Hina Sama is lost in the mists of
antiquity. It is generally supposed, however, to have
been introduced into Japan from China ; and in ancient
times it was known by various other names — Tokuasetsu
(the Festival of the Peach Blossom), from the time of year
at which it is held ; Diu San (Doubled Three) amongst

Its celebration is traceable, for a period of more than
fourteen centuries back, to the second year of the reign of
the Emperor Bidatsu, 574 a.d. There would appear to
be little doubt but that the real origin of this picturesque
and popular festival was in the ceremony of exorcism of
evil spirits, which anciently took place on the banks of the
rivers on the 1st of March in each year, but which were



afterwards performed on the third day of the same month.
Later on it was the custom to use dolls or images made of
paper, and called Hina, as scapegoats in these rites ; the
evil spirits or bad influences being supposed to pass into
these figures, which were then thrown into the river. In
the old days of the Shogunate it was the custom for the
Damio to pay a ceremonial visit to the Shogun, or military
ruler of the district or province on this day ; and through-
out Japan in every household the Hina Matsuri, or
"Festival of the Honourable Little People," was cele-

The boys of Japan are not, however, left without their
own festivals. In no country, probably, are the children
more considered than in the Empire of the Mikado, which
is, indeed, a land of children, flowers, and festivals.

The boys' festival is the Feast of Flags, which takes
place on the fifth day of the fifth month (nowadays
May 5th), and it is their own especial day. Long before
its arrival the shops in the streets and byways of every
city and town are gay with all kinds of toys, whilst in the
courtyard of every home stands a great bamboo pole, from
which on the day of the festival will float an enormous
paper carp, its body inflated by the wind which blows
down its widely-opened mouth, and with great staring eyes
glaring at the beholder as it seems to engage in an endless
struggle with the breeze.

In the courtyards of houses where the family is blessed
with more than one boy there will be several poles erected.

At Shobu Matsuri, the Feast of the Iris or Flag (so
named from the flower of the day), the celebration in the
home is much the same as regards food and offerings as
on the occasion of the O Hina Matsuri. There are the
same red-covered shelves on which the dolls are then
arranged ; but in place of the peaceful images of the
Emperor and Empress, the five Court musicians, the


geisha, and the other dolls, the household furniture and
toilet articles, there are effigies of the heroes of Japanese
history and folk-lore. On the shelves at the boys' festival
will be found such historic figures as Benkei, the giant
follower of Yoshitsune ; the warrior Empress Jingo,
Japan's Boadicea ; Yoshitsune, the marvellous swordsman
and victorious general ; Shoki Sama, the strong man who
could conquer demons ; Kintaro, the hairy red boy who
was born in the wilds of the mountains, and who, when but
a baby, fought with bears ; and many other heroes,
legendary, actual, and mythical. A flag bearing the crest
of the hero stands behind each, and before the figures are
set out miniature arms and weapons. The mocki, which is
the chief food offered them, is wrapped in oak leaves,
because the oak is the king amongst trees just as the carp
is king of the fishes, the emblem of longevity, strength,
and endurance.

The celebration of Buddha's birthday, though not a
festival founded for boys in particular, has been gradually
adopted by them as a great occasion. On this day, the
8th of April, in every Buddhist temple throughout the
land, a temporary platform is erected, the roof of which is
covered with flowers. Upon the stage is placed a great
tub filled with liquorice tea, in which is seated a small image
of the infant Buddha. To this tub flock all the small boys
of the village or quarter of the town in which the temple
is situated, armed with dippers made of bamboo. They
spend most of their time during the day in ladling up the
liquid, pouring it over the image, and then into small
bamboo buckets, so that they may carry it away with them.
The liquorice is supposed to possess marvellous curative
powers, and the devout, after making offerings of money
twisted up in small pieces of white paper, carry away the
tiny buckets full of the liquid with them.

It is generally believed by the common people, in the


country districts more particularly, that the liquor is
especially good for eye affections and throat complaints ;
and also that, mixed with ink, the charm written with it
will have the property (when placed about the house) of
getting rid of vermin.

Except that boys are boys all the world over in their
love of " messing with water or substitutes for it, it is
difficult to see what great attraction this particular feast
can possess for them.

There are other festivals, of course — indeed, many ;
but few can compare for the children of both sexes and
all ages with the great matsuri of the parish temple, which
with its sports, lanterns, dancing, uproarious merriment,
processions, carnival-like, emblematic and historical, and
legendary cars, on which tumblers, jugglers, and dancing
girls perform, may best be compared with one of the larger
" Pardons " of Brittany plus a carnival element.

In the evening the streets, lighted with a thousand
lanterns, are thronged by children and grown-up folk.
These struggle along, now stopping to gaze in at some
shop, where a faithful worshipper has erected an exquisite
shrine ; has constructed a beautiful garden in miniature in
a box two feet square ; or has arranged a whole matsuri
procession — dancers, people, weirdly-clad men who march
in front, and cars with figures on them — in miniature just
about to enter the gates or courtyard of a model temple.
In the street, too, is done a wonderful trade in lanterns,
sweetmeats, toys, etc., and the sound of geta and hum of
many voices bargaining floats up to the twinkling stars.

The night is the time for the boys. From many a
by-street will suddenly dash a horde of them, each having
his head bound up with a piece of blue and white towel-
ling ; each dressed more or less (often less than Western
decorum would think necessary) in a blue and white haori ;
half-a-dozen of them bearing on their shoulders as they


plunge through the crowd, which good-naturedly makes
way for them, a miniature "float" or carnival platform,
known as a dashi, made out of a packing-case or sakd barrel,
decorated with paper flowers, streamers, and lanterns.

Nothing in Japan, for boisterous fun and pure enjoy-
ment for the youngsters, can equal the parish temple
matsttri. It is an unique occasion, of which the boys in
especial make the most.

And when it is all over and the lanterns begin to flicker
out one by one, and the stars in the dark blue heavens
above seem to shine all the brighter from the gradual
decline of competition from earthly lights, it is a very
orderly and very tired crowd that makes its way home-
ward, sometimes chanting, generally chatting over the
incidents of the day, to the accompaniment of a musical
klop-klop of geta on the earth of country roads : a sound
quite different to the sharper song of the geta on the flags
of temple courtyard or the cobbles of paved streets.



THOSE who would know something of the more
modern and more vital life of Japan must have
dwelt in one or other of the largest towns or
cities ; for it is there that it is possible to form
the truest estimate of the life of the common
people and the trend of national affairs. Every great town
affords unrivalled opportunities for studying the various
phases of existence, which exhibit not only the modern
tendencies but also racial characteristics.

The little shops and houses of the trading and lower
classes, with their open fronts, allow one to become ac-
quainted with the inner side of the people's life in a way it
is not possible in the more secluded and private business
houses and homes. By a strange circumstance in former
times the occupation of a shopkeeper or even of a merchant
was esteemed the lowest in the scale of respectable callings,
and in consequence the business of the nation was almost
entirely in the hands of people who either lacked intelli-
gence or ambition sufficient to raise them higher in the
social scale.

And thus it is that one does not even nowadays find
many large businesses in Japan, or a very high standard of
business morality amongst the trading classes. Probably
largely for this reason English and American firms trading
in the Japanese market, and knowing or seeing Japan only

from the commercial side, are apt to pronounce the Japanese


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as shifty, dishonest, and unreliable in commercial matters,
whilst they have found the Chinese possessed of business
methods more in keeping with Western ideas.

It is only in quite recent times that members of the
samurai class, or, indeed, any one capable of success in any
higher calling, have been found willing to become merchants,
because of the stigma which had for centuries attached to
trade. But nowadays there are many of the ablest Japa-
nese connected with commerce, who have begun to recognise
that it is one of the most important factors in a nation's
wealth and well-being, and that, if honestly conducted, an
occupation concerned with buying and selling is as honour-
able as any other species of employment, and is one of
which no one need be ashamed. Of course, in Japan, as in
other Eastern countries, there are some great merchants
upon whose word Western traders can absolutely rely, and
who never fail to fulfil any commercial obligations which
they have taken upon them ; but it is useless to pretend
that the greater part of the buying and selling is not still in
the hands of people in whose scheme of morality com-
mercial integrity has little place, and who will take advan-
tage wherever it is possible to do so. Many of the trading
classes of Japan have yet to realise the general efficacy of
the ancient maxim, " Honesty is the best policy."

It is only fair to say, however, that in Japan — as in
other Eastern countries — trade, which is conducted in a
small way and with small capital, is considered by the
traders to be more of the character of a game, where one
person must of necessity lose and the other gain, than as a
fair exchange of goods for money or other goods, by which
both the bargaining parties at least obtain what they
require. Amongst many of the Japanese, even to-day, it
is the old-time or mediaeval system of business which is
practised and commends itself to their ideas. And com-
merce with them is a struggle engaged in by buyer and


seller, in which each must take care of himself, and reap
all possible advantage at the expense of the other, whose
business it is to see that he is not cheated.

This view of commercial life is, however, slowly but
surely changing, and even another ten years may do much
to purify business methods in Japan, seeing that to compete
successfully with other nations she must herself adopt their
standards of commercial morality, as she is undoubtedly
willing to adopt their business and organisation.

Even in Tokyd, the city where one meets with the most
modernised ideas, one does not see many of the large stores
or conglomerate shops such as are to be found in big
towns and cities in Europe and America. But in their
stead one has the little open-fronted shops, which are often
nothing but the front rooms of the houses, where one sits
down on the raised floor whilst making one's purchases,
conscious that the smiling and amiable proprietor has
decided upon the price of the articles in his stock, which
one may desire to purchase, according to the style of one's
attire and apparent ignorance of values. In some of the
very large shops the practice of having the goods marked
in H plain figures " has come into fashion, and bargaining
becomes unnecessary ; and also in the kwankoba or bazaars
one frequently finds goods of all kinds marked in " plain
figures," from which there is not usually any variation.

But notwithstanding the advance that Japan has made
in most departments of life, one is forced to the conclusion
that the methods of trade are in a very elementary and un-
developed condition, and far behind the other departments
of Japanese civilisation.

Most of the women of the upper or more wealthy classes
do their shopping at home ; for all the shops are willing, on
receiving a request to do so, to send up goods on approval.
And thus it is that one frequently sees a clerk or an assis-
tant in one of the larger stores toiling along to some cus-


torner's house with all sorts of goods tied to his back in a
huge bundle, frequently rising considerably above his head,
and giving him a most grotesque and over-loaded appear-
ance. On his arrival he practically opens a small shop in
the home, for setting his huge bundle down on the floor he
unties its outer covering or furushiki, and takes out roll
after roll of silk crepes or cotton goods, which are them-
selves done up in paper or coarse yellow cotton stuffs, and
other articles which he has been instructed to submit.
With a patience that is astonishing he waits for the lady
customers to engage in lengthy debates regarding the merits
or demerits of the goods submitted ; and should none of the
articles he has brought prove acceptable, he seems perfectly
willing to come again with others, knowing that in the end
a sufficient amount will be purchased to remunerate him
for his trouble.

Women of the lower and less aristocratic classes are
in the habit of going to the shops themselves, and in
such business streets as the Hatago-Cho Itchome, Ginza,
Takekawa-Ch5, Ichi-ban-chi, and the Ni-hom Bashi-dori,
Tokyo ; and Main Street, Hon-cho-dori Nichome, and Ben-
ten-dori, Yokohama, are thronged with women young and
old, and children, the latter enjoying the sights of the
shops, and the former the delights of bargaining quite as
much as do their European brothers and sisters.

Shopping, too, like many other things in Japan, occu-
pies a considerable amount of time. No one seems to be
in a great hurry except the small boys who, in the bigger
shops, rush about all over the place carrying armsful of
goods to the different clerks, who sit upon the matted floors,
each with his soroban, or calculating machine, at his side,
or are engaged in rolling up the lengths of silk and cotton
goods, or picking up other articles which have been dis-
played but failed to please the customers. Even the big
shops appear to foreign eyes little more than a roofed over


and matted platform, upon which both customer and sales-
man sit, often merely screened from the street by dark
blue cotton hangings, or an awning depending from the
low projecting eaves of the roof.

At many of the shops when the customers have taken
their seats, either on the edge of this platform, or, if they
mean to spend some time over the operation of finding
what they require, upon the straw matting of the platform
itself, tea appears for the party, and a somewhat over-
polite and even obsequious salesman greets them with an
elaborate welcome, and waits for them — if it is cold — to
warm their hands at the charcoal brazier before proceeding
to business. Often, too, customers will smoke before pro-
ceeding to the business concerning which they have come.
Then as soon as they are ready, the little boys who fetch
and carry in the bigger shops are sent off to find the various
goods for which the customers ask ; and soon the shopper
is surrounded by a seemingly endless selection of articles
which he or she regards meditatively, or turns over in a
leisurely manner whilst still sipping tea, or smoking a few
whiffs from the tiny pipes which many Japanese men and
women always carry with them. When the customer is
suited, there is yet a considerable time to be spent in wait-
ing until the clerk has made elaborate calculations upon
his soro&an, and the transaction has been recorded in his
books, and a long bill written out and stamped.

During his stay in one of the large shops such as we
have described, the foreign customer is sure to have been
startled by loud exclamations and shouts from the whole of
the staff of clerks and small boys in attendance. These
outbreaks are so sudden, and often so loud, that one is at
first alarmed lest a fire or something very terrible should
have happened. But one at length learns that the disturb-
ing exclamations mean nothing of the kind, but are merely
the way in which the Japanese shopkeeper and his staff

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speed the departing purchaser, and that the weird and at
first seemingly inarticulate exclamations mean u thanks for
a continuance of your custom," which every employd in the
store feels it his duty to shout whenever a customer leaves.
At first one cannot help a feeling of dismay and over-
whelming shyness when one becomes the recipient of this
noisy demonstration, and European ladies have been known
to take flight incontinently, so overpowering are the shouts
where a large staff is employed, dropping their parcels as
they fled.

Of course, in the smaller shops there is less formality
and less trouble for the purchaser, for most of the goods
are stored within easy reach, and in many of the tiny busi-
ness premises, which are little more than stalls, nearly the
whole stock-in-trade is piled in front of the shop, or even
on the pavement itself.

In most of these often quaint and interesting stores the
proprietors live on the premises, and glimpses of the living
rooms at the back, frequently opening upon tiny but well-
kept gardens, can be seen whilst the customer is making
purchases. In the work of the shops of this kind the pro-
prietors are generally assisted by their wives and children,
and, where necessary, by one or two apprentices.

The system of holidays is somewhat peculiar in Japan,
for there is no day during the year when all the shops
close, and each of the workers employed in business houses
take an occasional holiday rather than a week, a fort-
night, or a month, as is the case with us. And yet the
occupiers of the smaller shops, who dwell on the premises,
and literally almost live in the streets amidst the dust and
noise and bustle of the big towns, still have time in which
to enjoy life, have occasional days off, and take an abiding
pleasure in the little gardens which are usually found at the
back of the premises. On the whole, indeed, they may be
said to have more pleasure and work less hard than many


Westerners, who apparently take far more holidays and
have far more obvious amusements and pleasures.

One of the first things which strikes a Westerner on be-
coming acquainted with the life in one of the great Japanese
cities or towns is the comparative absence not only of large
shops but of manufactories ; and a wonder takes possession
of him as to where the beautiful lacquer work and porcelain,
which are to be met with almost on every hand, are made,
and where the delicate, gay, and charming silk, crepe, and
cotton fabrics used for the Japanese costumes are woven.

There are as yet few large factories where such things
are turned out wholesale. The most delicate of the vases,
the choicest bronzes and lacquer work, the most charming
cloisonnd ware, and the silks and embroideries are often
made in the humblest homes, and represent, some of them,
the work of one or two artistic-souled labourers working
with the most primitive tools.

Owing to the absence of any considerable number of
great manufactories, the polluting smoke, which is the bane
of large Western cities, is never seen hovering like a heavy
pall over those of the Mikado's Empire. And with the
absence of these there is a corresponding absence of
the terrible, soul-destroying, and unhealthy conditions of
factory life, which afflicts the more progressive of Western
nations, with its unceasing and nerve-destroying noise of
machinery, that bewilders the minds of those who come
within its deadening influence until they become scarcely
better than machines themselves.

The hardest of all lives in Japan is probably that led
by the jinrikisha man ; but although he may be com-
pelled to run all day, like a horse, between the shafts of
his little vehicle, through the crowded streets of the city
or along the dusty or muddy highways, his occupation at
least keeps him in the fresh air, and is healthful, and likely
to improve his powers of body and quicken his mind.


One of the most satisfactory things about the life of
even the very poor in Japanese cities and large towns is
the fact that fresh air, sunshine, green and flowering trees,
and restful grass is never denied them, and even the beau-
tiful parks and gardens which are found everywhere are
thrown open for the enjoyment of the very meanest and
poorest. And for these also, on certain days of the month
in various sections of the cities, night festivals are held
near the temples, where crowds, made up of all classes,
amuse themselves in a rational manner and promenade,
a happy throng, between the lines of temporary booths,
which enterprising shopkeepers erect on such occasions,
or hover in warmly expressed admiration near the magni-
ficent displays of young trees, plants, and flowers which
have been brought in from the country by the various
gardeners and ranged on both sides of the temple avenues.
Flowers and plants, in themselves beautiful, seem in the
light of the flaming torches and coloured lanterns to show
to even greater advantage ; and the enterprising gardeners
who have brought in their treasures from outlying districts
generally reap a golden harvest.

Bargaining is, of course, an absolute necessity, for the
flower-sellers are notoriously given to asking very high
preliminary prices — sometimes even five or six times the
amount they are prepared ultimately to accept. A pot of
chrysanthemums, for example, which has taken one's fancy
may be priced by the salesman at a yen (about 4s. 2d.) to
commence with, and may ultimately, after much bargaining,
change hands at 20 sen, which is a fifth of the price
originally asked. And for each purchase the same lengthy
bargaining will have to be gone through. But as evening
draws on prices get lower and lower, because the distance
that the plants have been brought is often great, and the
labour of packing up and transporting home again unsold

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Online LibraryClive HollandOld and new Japan → online text (page 11 of 23)