Clive Holland.

Old and new Japan online

. (page 12 of 23)
Online LibraryClive HollandOld and new Japan → online text (page 12 of 23)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

goods is weary work.


The flower-stalls are, however, by no means the only
ones of interest at these night festivals. There are tempt-
ing displays of cheap toys and trinkets which prove attrac-
tive not alone to the children. And others of the booths
are devoted to dolls, singing birds in cages, goldfish in
globes, fans, sweetmeats, hairpins, roasted beans, plums in
sugar, cakes of all kinds, and quaint chirping insects-— the
singing cricket amongst them — in tiny wicker-cages or
baskets, and other articles of all kinds too numerous to
enumerate. Then at the end of the long line of stalls
are frequently to be found other booths or tents, in which
dancing girls and jugglers perform, and freaks and mon-
strosities, educated animals, etc., may be seen for varying
entrance fees, which sometimes do not exceed a farthing.

Most of these shows adopt quite Western methods to
attract audiences, and outside them one finds showmen
beating drums and shouting highly-coloured descriptions
of the wonders to be found inside ; whilst marvellous
pictures entice passers-by, and even an occasional glimpse
of the wonders within is afforded to the gaping crowd by
a momentary and tantalising raising of the curtain which
covers the entrance.

To the Japanese child, as to its Western brothers and
sisters, all these things possess a marvellous attraction,
and the little feet which trudge so gallantly on ringing
geta, or thrust in soft-treading waraji, never seem weary
until the last booth has been passed and the quiet and
shadow-enshrouded streets, lighted only by the swinging
paper lanterns of home-coming folk, strikes a strong note
of contrast with the noise and brilliant illumination of
the festival.

Nearly all the children, even the poorest (for simple
toys are so cheap), trudge homeward with their little hands
filled with trifles bought at the expenditure of a few sen,
and their little hearts happy with the sights they have


seen and the pleasures they have enjoyed. And those
who have, for some reason or other, remained at home will
not have been forgotten by the fortunate ones who have
visited the festival. These will be sure to receive some
little gift, and the ontiagd, or present, which must be given
in return, is a regular institution.

The whole festival is over quite early, and most people
have gone home and retired to rest by ten o'clock at
night ; and soon after that hour the tiny stalls and booths
are stripped of their lightened burdens of toys and sweets
and other things as if by magic, and their energetic pro-
prietors take down the framework, pack up their unsold
goods and disappear, leaving behind not a trace of the
night's festivities, save perhaps a few fragments of paper
or broken toys, to greet the rising sun.

The city dwellers of Japan are rather inclined, as they
are in other parts of the world, to look down upon the
country people for their lack of manners, greater simplicity
of dress, and slower intellect ; whilst the country people for
their part are not less prone to poke fun at the fads and
often to them incomprehensible fashions of city folk. But
whilst it is true the country folk laugh at those of the
town, there is nevertheless in modern Japan just the same
tendency for the younger life of the country to constantly
migrate to the towns. Tdkyd is the loadstar of attraction
for the young Japanese peasant or provincial just as
London is for his English equivalent. And thither he
migrates from his country home to seek his fortune, fre-
quently, alas ! to find in the end nothing but a pitiful
existence in front of him, or to adopt the hard life of the
kurumaya {jinrikisha boy) instead of finding the success,
wealth and influence of which he had dreamt. Sometimes,
of course, skilful workers in lacquer or metal will migrate
from the villages or small towns to the large towns or cities,
and find not only congenial but eminently profitable em-


ployment. But these are the few, and the problem of the
overcrowding of cities promises in the near future to be
scarcely less pressing and difficult of solution in Japan than
it is with us.

With regard to the lower-class women of the cities,
they are in many respects very similar in type to those of
the country, except that they enjoy less freedom than do
the country women in the selection of their occupations.
They meet and chat amongst themselves and with the
men around the wells and water-tanks, which stand at fre-
quent intervals in the streets of the larger towns, whilst
drawing water, washing rice or their kitchen utensils ; but
all the same they have not the opportunity of so many
various types of labour as have their country-side sisters.

As a general rule their energies are chiefly expended in
indoor occupations and in the more domestic varieties of
w T ork ; and the chief bread-winning occupations are left
almost entirely in the hands of men and boys. But there
are, of course, several trades and occupations, which the
necessities of city life have largely brought into existence,
eminently suitable for women, and by which they are able
to support themselves or their families.

One of the most popular callings for women is that of
hairdresser, and a clever woman can always make a hand-
some living in this way. Indeed, that she, as a general
rule, does so has become so accepted a supposition that
there is a saying in Japan that " The hairdresser's husband
need do nothing." Many women, too, at the head of this
profession not only take apprentices, but actually obtain
assistants to do the less important types of coiffure and the
preparatory work, to which the hairdresser herself does
only the finishing touches. How important hairdressing
is in Japan may be gathered from the fact that to spend
four or five hours over one coiffure is by no means an
unusual thing ; and some of the most elaborate erections of











c- 1




























































hair frequently take longer than even this. That they
remain " up " for a week or more must indeed be a satis-
faction to the owners who have devoted so much time to-
their erection.

There are also many women in the towns who take in
work for tailors, and who give lessons in sewing. And
others follow the profession of instructors in the ceremonial
tea etiquette, music, painting, and flower arrangement. In-
deed, many women of the older type, to whom more public
occupations would prove a trial and distasteful, earn an
independence by following one or other of the callings
which we have mentioned.

Hotel-keeping, too, is not a little in the hands of
women ; and, indeed, in the country districts one may say
is very largely under their supervision. The attendants
are usually prettily-dressed, charming-mannered, and often
sweet-faced musumes, and the proprietor of the hotel is
frequently a woman. Where this is the case she is truly
the master of the house ; her husband may or may not
appear, and if he does it is quite as a subsidiary. There
are generally one or two men about, but these will be
working under the direction of the woman proprietress^
The latter usually makes an excellent head of an hotel,
managing everything, from the cooking of the meals in
the kitchen to the filling and heating of the great bath-
tub, into which guests are invited to enter every afternoon
in strict order of their rank.

There is a saying in Japan that an unmarried or a
widowed male hotel proprietor is unlikely to succeed in his
business, and in many of the large towns where restaurants
are nowadays springing up, at which food served in the
foreign style can be obtained, one finds a man and his wife
conducting the business in common and on terms of good
fellowship and absolute equality of authority and interest.
In the little eating-houses, where one can get a well-cooked



dinner of from four to six courses at a charge of about
fifteen-pence, the man is generally the cook, and the
woman serves and handles the money until the business
is sufficiently prosperous to justify additional assistance.
Then the woman may confine herself to the general re-
ception of the guests and the keeping of the accounts,
while the actual waiting is delegated to musumes or

The business of keeping a tea-house is also one in which
women are largely concerned, both in the town and country
districts, and however remote the place, or however rough
the road leading to it, at every halting-point one is sure to
be found. Sometimes these have more of the character
of hotels, with several rooms for the use of guests ; at
others merely rough shelters, at one end of which the
water for the tea is kept boiling over a charcoal brazier,
whilst at the other end a few seats covered with mats or
a coloured blanket or two serve as resting-places for
travellers or habitues. But whatever size the place may
be, and wherever situated, one is sure to be well waited
upon by a woman attendant, and tea will be served
promptly and daintily. If one requires more substantial
refreshment the resources of the house will be at once
ransacked, and whether it be only a slice of water-melon,
or eels served with rice, eggs, soup, or vermicelli, or a
more elaborate meal, according to the resources of the
establishment, it will undoubtedly be the best that at the
moment can be provided.

When the feast is over and the guest wishes to depart,
the dishes that have been specially ordered are paid for
in the usual way, but the tea and the sweetmeats are
considered to be offered gratuitously, and no stated charge
is made for them ; payment being made by a small present,
called chadai y left for the purpose. Sometimes where the
visit has been for several days, or the party is a large one,



chadai will amount to several yen ; and this gift is supposed
to pay also for extra services and attention bestowed not
only by the servants but by the proprietor of the inn. The
" tip " has to be neatly wrapped up in paper on which is
written " on chadai" which literally means tea-money, and
is given with as much formality as any other gift in Japan.
The maid who is to call the landlord is summoned by a
clapping of hands, and when the landlord himself arrives,
the chadai is pushed to him along the matting floor, whilst
one makes some self-deprecating remark such as, M It is
very little to give you for all the great kindness you have
shown us."

Although, of course, the recipient will have been expect-
ing the gift, he will bow low down to the floor with every
expression of surprise ; and raising the little package to
his head in token of acceptance and gratitude, he will him-
self make depreciating remarks concerning what he has
done for his guests, and relative to the humbleness and
inconvenience of his establishment. Then after his formal
thanks are ended he will slip away to see how much he
has got. But whatever his pleasure or disappointment
may be on viewing the chadai, nothing but the most
smiling gratitude will appear upon his face when he makes
a return present of a fan, sweetmeats, or some trifle ; and
he will speed the parting guests with his lowest bow and
most beneficent smile after having seen to their final

Another not unimportant calling which is followed by
both men and women of the towns is that of fortune-
teller ; and these guides, who are consulted on all matters
of importance in life, are to be found in most quarters of
the city, and many of them earn considerable incomes by
practice of their profession. The more celebrated fortune-
tellers not only profess to be able to tell the most lucky
days for marriage, commencing a journey, etc., but also


to assist in the recovery of lost articles of value, and to
give reliable information regarding the causes of ill-

Most Japanese of the lower and lower-middle class,
and perhaps one might say the upper classes too, believe
implicitly in the power of the fortune-teller; and when
they have been warned against impending ills, or against
certain actions, many curious and ingenious expedients
are adopted to avoid all risk of the catastrophe which has
been foretold. And some of the shifts by which people
seek to outwit the powers of evil are very quaint indeed.

One instance of the exercise of these subterfuges may
suffice to show of what childlike simplicity they frequently
are. On one occasion in Nagasaki, when an important
marriage had been arranged between two " high con-
tracting parties," the fortune-teller discovered that the bride
lived in a quarter of the city which was bad for the bride-
groom's luck ; this was, of course, a matter of the gravest
importance. The relatives, however, on both sides were
most anxious that the marriage should not for this reason
be broken off. So it occurred to an ingenious member of
the bride's family that the simplest way to hookwink the
gods would be for the young lady to reside for a day or
two before the wedding in the house of a relative residing
in another part of the city, which, of course, was one which
was entirely favourable to her future husband's fortune. It
is pleasant to think that this transparent ruse must have
had the intended effect upon the gods, for not only did no
ill-luck befall the young pair, but, on the contrary, ' ' they
lived happily ever after," blessed by good fortune and good

In the large towns and cities there is no lack of reason-
able amusement, and the theatre, though not, even now,
regarded with great favour by the upper classes as a
refined form of amusement, has in the past done, and


is undoubtedly nowadays doing, much, not only for the
entertainment but even the instruction of the lower classes
in national history and the customs of other days. And
though regular plays were formerly never given in the
presence of the Court, or even in that of the Shogun and
his nobles, there was a dramatic entertainment of ancient
origin, known as the " No Dance," performed before the
Japanese nobility, which is perhaps more like the ancient
Greek drama than any still extant in modern life. Every
movement of the actors is studied and conventional ; their
utterances are a poetical recital, and a chorus, seated around
them on the stage, gives utterance in the form of chanting
to comments upon the various situations much as did the
Greek chorus of ancient times.

These performances alone, the most classical and
ancient of Japan, are considered of sufficient importance
or merit to make it deserving of representation before
the Emperor and his nobles.

The Japanese theatre of the common people has much
to recommend it, although the plays performed sometimes
deal with episodes of a character which are tabooed in
Western lands, in that it preserves in many ways the
life and costumes of old Japan. As with us prior to the
Restoration, men almost universally took women's parts,
so are the actors in a Japanese theatre usually men ;
although there are a few places where, with an inversion
of this custom, all the parts are performed by women.
In no case are men and women seen performing upon
one stage. The Japanese theatrical performance cannot
be considered in the light of an after-dinner entertain-
ment ; the plays last all day, from ten or eleven in the
morning till eight or nine o'clock at night, and some of
them run continuously for several days. Lunch, dinner,
with innumerable little meals between whiles, are neces-
sary concomitants of a day's entertainment at the theatre ;


and tea-houses in the neighbourhood of the bigger theatres
not only cater for the audiences, but also provide a room
in which to take the various meals between the acts.
Light refreshments, such as tea, cakes, and fancy fruits,
are served in the boxes of the theatre whilst the play
is in progress, and the Japanese audience when enjoying
a day at the play smoke and chat and eat quite uncon-
cernedly whilst the comedy or tragedy is being performed.

The professional story-teller or hanashika is another
institution not dissimilar to the theatre. He gives his
recitals in public rooms or halls, where he tells inter-
minable stories night after night with the skill of a
practised and well-trained elocutionist ; each gesture and
every modulation of his voice is as carefully studied as
though he were an actor, and his audience sit spellbound
listening to his tales, shivering visibly as he recounts
some scene of horror, trembling with excitement when
he paints for them word-pictures of gallant deeds done
and terrible risks run by heroes of the past, and smiling
at the comic episodes.

Some of the most charming tales of old Japan are
found in the repertoire of the better -class hanashika,
and even some Western stories find a place in it. The
serial story is quite popular, and the same audience will
frequently be gathered night after night when some excit-
ing romance is being thus retailed piecemeal.

The hanashika are divided into several classes ; and
we fear the repertoire of stories of those of the lower
class is frequently disfigured by tales the moral tone
of which is not above question. But the professional
story-teller who has talent and reputation is frequently
invited — like a " Society Entertainer " in our own land —
to come to private houses to amuse a party of guests.

Many a hanashika, in addition to elocutionary gifts,
possesses wonderful ability as a ventriloquist, so that he

* * » , • •

../A:..::" VK:*?

•- • : ••.



can imitate the voices of the different characters appearing
in his tales, and thus give a wonderful verisimilitude to
the stories.

The more celebrated professional story-tellers have
all classes of tales in their repertoire, solemn and gay,
adventurous and idyllic, dramatic and poetic — all are re-
presented ; and he seldom fails to make his listeners
weep or laugh according to the character of the story
which he is relating.

Amongst the professional entertainers of Japan none
have been more written about, or in a general way are
perhaps better known to the foreigner, than the geisha.
And although there are those who contend that the
geisha has bulked too largely in most books and even
romances relating to Japan, the contention is not really a
very sound one, for in the past at least they have repre-
sented so much that was charming, idyllic, and important
in Japanese life that no book upon the country could be
considered as complete in the pages of which the footfall,
the smile, and the fascination of the geisha did not

The geisha proper is, of course, a dancing girl. To
most of those, indeed, who have only a slight knowledge
of Japanese life and customs, she appears to be little more
than a public dancing girl who may or may not — generally
may not — be also virtuous. But although the geisha proper
dances for money, it is incorrect to regard her merely as
a public dancing girl, for such a thing as public dancing,
as we understand the term, is little known in Japan.

In the geisha ya> which are establishments usually
managed by women, where little girls are taken and
indentured by their parents, or sometimes adopted by the
proprietors of the establishment, the geisha are trained
from early youth not only in the art of dancing, but also
in singing and samisen playing, and the etiquette of serving


and entertaining guests, and, finally, whatever else is held
to make a girl charming and attractive to men.

From these geisha ya> girls who have finished their
training can be hired by the day or for the evening by
the proprietors of tea-houses or by private individuals who
are giving entertainments to their friends. A great deal
of trouble is taken over the education of the geisha, and
when they have been thoroughly taught they prove a very
valuable investment, and well repay the owners of the
geisha ya for all the expense and trouble which they have
lavished upon them.

Hardly any Japanese social entertainment is regarded
as complete unless one or more of these girls are in
attendance, and how charming an addition their dancing,
music, and graceful service of the meal forms at a tea-
house party it is not easy to express.

When the Japanese want to entertain their friends,
they invite them to a tea-house where they have engaged
a private room, leaving their women folk at home, and
provide amusement for themselves and their friends through
the medium of the geisha they have hired from a geisha y 'a,
or who belong to the chaya. Large sums of money can
be spent over such entertainments, for although the dishes
of the feast, which usually accompanies the entertainment,
are generally unsubstantial, they are frequently, like many
other unsubstantial things, costly. And a single geisha's
fee for the evening may be anything from a yen to fifty
times that amount, according to her youth, beauty, skill
and reputation. At many of the chaya which cater for
these private entertainments, there are beautiful reception
rooms — sometimes located in little detached pavilions —
spacious apartments with walls formed of the usual paper-
covered sliding - screens (karakami), which are so easily
moved, and admit into the room by day, in company with
the shoji, when closed, such an artistic and pearly light.


The Japanese dances performed by the geisha are
singularly graceful in character and modest in pose. The
notorious Chon kino, performed chiefly in the Treaty
Ports for the benefit of the foreigner, though sometimes
referred to as a geisha dance is not in reality one at all,
but a game of forfeits of a degrading and demoralising

In the real dances of the geisha, seen at the better-class
tea-houses and at entertainments given by the Japanese to
their friends, the graceful and supple swaying of the bodies
and limbs of the dancers, the artistic manipulations of the
draperies, the variety of the ideas and costumes in the
different dances, all serve to make such entertainments
some of the pleasantest and most artistic experiences in
Japan. Most of the dances have a definite motif under-
lying both the schemes of costumes and the movement of
the dancers. For example, sometimes dainty geisha clad in
scarlet and yellow kimono imitate, by supple bending of
their bodies and the fluttering of the flowing sleeves of
their garments, the dance of Maple Leaves, as they are
driven this way and that by the autumn wind ; whilst at
others, with tucked up kimono and their vivid red petticoats
showing, they take the characters of little country girls
carrying their eggs or their produce to market in a neigh-
bouring village. Or again, attired in full armour of ancient
times, they imitate the martial walk and gestures of old-
time heroes of Japanese history ; and at others, dressed up
to represent old men and women, their dance depicts some
well-known incident or legend enshrined in Japanese folk-

In all their performances one is conscious of watching
and listening to finished artistes, in whose bodies one sees
the cult of graceful movement brought to its highest per-
fection. And when the entertainment is over, and all on-
lookers have been bewitched by their grace and beauty, the


geisha take upon themselves yet another rSle, and descend-
ing from the platform, or coming from the end of the room
where their performance has been given, they mingle with
their employers, laughing, jesting, gay and apparently
happy, until there is little wonder if many fall beneath the
spell of their bright eyes and merry wits which have
beguiled them through the long evening entertainment.
And, indeed, whatever the geisha does, whether she dances,
waits upon the guests of her employer, or sits cross-legged
upon the floor smoking her kiseru (little pipe), and smiling

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 12 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23

Online LibraryClive HollandOld and new Japan → online text (page 12 of 23)