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thousands of Parma violets are compressed into the least
possible space, and surrounded by a stiff and inartistic
palisading of myrtle or laurel leaves !

The same perception of and love for purity of line which
distinguishes the department of Japanese art to which we
have just referred applies not alone to flowers. It is the
same with the trees ; both those in the gardens and the
strange miniature productions in pots. In each case they
are almost invariably trained to produce a graceful and
beautiful outline. Indeed, it is rather the outline of the
tree in Japan than the foliage which impresses one at first
sight. And the Japanese artist frequently applies this


same idea to his representations of trees on vases, kakemono,
screens, etc. Often they are but washes of ink or colour
showing little or no detail, merely dainty silhouettes of
the particular tree or plant which has been selected for

The Japanese appreciation of the artistic importance of
space is to be seen in every department of life. It plainly
declares itself in every design, in the forms of decoration,
and in most objects of art. To the Japanese mind the
idea of overcrowding is anathema. In the business houses
it is the spaciousness of the arrangement of the goods, the
isolation of particularly handsome or rare articles which
attracts — not the overwhelming overplus of stock with
which one's eyes are dazzled and assailed in Western
stores and shops ; just as it is a single blossom, a single
spray of foliage, a single leaf, which so often truly decorates
a screen, a piece of wrapping-paper, or a panel, whether of
lacquer or other material. To the Japanese mind economy
of detail is only another term for effect ; and this economy
they have learned to use to the very highest possible

The Japanese for this reason can never become entirely
at home in an English or American house. In their eyes
our crowded drawing-rooms present not only the appear-
ance but also the ineradicable idea of ostentatious display,
and some features at least of a badly-arranged museum
or warehouse. And when, from acquaintance with our
methods, this idea may have in some slight measure worn
off, they are confronted with yet another difficulty —
monotony. Accustomed as they are to a constant change
of ornaments in their own homes, where from the family
stock of curios (whether large or small) some precious or
artistic object is constantly being drawn to replace others,
which are relegated to the background for a time so as to
ensure the change which the Japanese so fully recognise as

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being good for the sight and restful and yet stimulating to
the brain, the changelessness of the ornaments in an aver-
age English dwelling becomes appallingly monotonous.

There has never been much dispute as to the thorough-
ness of Japanese workmanship. Even the demands of
Europe and America for shoddy lacquer work, impossibly
cheap screens, fireplace decorations, and vases, has
happily not yet caused the Japanese to entirely prosti-
tute their art, or honesty of execution. Indeed, much of
the bad Japanese "stuff" has been — well, made elsewhere.
Nowadays it must be admitted, however, that many vases
which would have been broken up twenty years ago, or
even a decade ago, because of slight imperfections of manu-
facture, tiny flaws, unevenness of the glaze, untrueness of
the shape, are seized upon by merchants for export to meet
the Western demand for the cheap and nasty, which is so
detrimental to the artistic life of most European nations.

Regarding the delicacy of taste, which we have claimed
as one of the four chief characteristics of the art of the
Japanese people, various views have been from time to
time expressed. The use of such phrases as " the gorgeous
East," "Oriental luxury," "barbaric colouring and magni-
ficence," the "crimson glory of the Far East," etc., have
tended to create a distinctly erroneous impression in many
people's mind regarding the art and life of Japan. To
them, indeed, the East is the East, and they do not, there-
fore, realise that terms true of India, Burmah, Persia, and
perhaps even of China in a less degree, are by no means
true when applied to Japan. But though this inexact
extravagance of language is undoubtedly one source of
the wrong impression many people have of Japan and
Japanese art colouring, it is not the only one. The matter
of climate plays a very important part in the effect upon
the mind made by colouring. Under the bright blue sky
of Japan and its dazzling yellow sunshine, much Japanese


colouring must appear ultra-vivid, therefore noticeably-
gaudy, which in a less clear atmosphere would lose much
of this characteristic. Therefore to estimate the scale of
Eastern colouring it is necessary to see it on the spot.

The Japanese, too, have learnt the art (which is
apparently as yet unappreciated by Western manufac-
turers to a very small extent, if at all) of making their
brightest colours soft without robbing them of their clarity.
With us a soft or so-called "art" shade in a fabric is
almost invariably dull in tone. It is not, as with the
Japanese, a mere softening or subduing of the shade ;
and one is forced to confess that, seen beside the Japanese
colours in a like scale, ours are H muddy " and ineffective.

In the dress of the average Japanese there is no note
of mere gorgeousness. The costumes of the children form,
it is true, altogether delightful blots of colour, introducing
that note of vivid life and happiness with which no nation
can afford altogether to dispense. But the grown women
wear, whether in cotton or silken fabrics, the beautiful soft
shades of greys, mauves, blues, yellows, and apricots ;
whilst the men wear chiefly greys or dust-coloured fabrics ;
the coolies and kurumaya blues.

The working-classes, both men and women, wear, as
a general rule, indigo blue. The sobriety and simplicity
of taste of the Japanese, a simplicity which is, indeed,
strangely at variance with the practice of most other
Eastern peoples, is seen in the absence of jewellery. It
is not for lack of precious and even gorgeous jewels, how-
ever, for they have amethysts, both purple and mauve,
crystals of many hues, blood-red stones, and pearls. But
these are bought to be applied to art purposes, or by the
rich merely to look at and treasure as precious things
which are amongst the best of gifts from the workshop of
Nature, not often for personal adornment. Probably the
Japanese people are the only civilised race which, whilst


appreciating the value of gems, yet scarcely ever use them
as articles of jewellery.

The statement that the Japanese possess a passion for
the infinitely little finds a place in most books upon Japan ;
and the idea is one which has gained such currency that
it is difficult to combat. Not even the building of battle-
ships, the "big" things accomplished by them of recent
times in the field of war, can apparently disabuse the
average Western mind of this idea — that everything in
Japan is on a small scale. That it is a mistaken idea the
battleships of modern times ; the great temples of ancient
days ; the gigantic statue of Buddha at Kamakura, those
huge figures of him at Nara and Kyotd ; the great bronze
bell of Kyoto, which is the largest hanging bell in the
world, the others at Nara and Chion-in ; the walled castle
of Osaka of ancient days — all serve to prove the fallacy of
this idea of devotion to mere littleness, at least as such.

A more intimate knowledge of the Japanese people,
their home life and their ideals of art and methods of
thought, will, however, best serve to remove the erroneous
idea, and show that it is rather to a very highly-developed
sense of proportion that this seeming love of the minute
is in reality traceable.

The Japanese home is devoid of furniture, as we know
the term. The floor space is therefore left free for grace-
ful and effective movement The comparatively tiny apart-
ment at once assumes a proportion of usefulness quite
equal to that of a large European room encumbered by a
hundred and one useless articles, in addition to the many
large objects which the sitting upon chairs or settees,
instead of upon the floor or thick futon, makes imperative.
Indeed, living on the floor, as one does in Japan, gives to
the room, the home itself, and the outside objects not only
a different perspective to that which they would possess if
seen from the height of chairs or stools, but at the same


time alters the scale of proportion of all articles in that
home entirely. The Japanese table, both as regards
height and area, represents much what a stool would to us.
Imagine an attempt to serve an ordinary English meal on
such an article! It will be easily appreciated, too, that
the actual level of one's eyes, when sitting on the floor in
the Japanese fashion and when seated on an ordinary
European chair, represents a difference of between two feet
and two feet six inches. It should also be remembered
that in the case of the Japanese themselves — whose height
is lower on the average than ours — the line of sight comes
still nearer the ground. Thus we venture to think it will
be understood that the articles which are smaller in Japan
than with us, which have been copied from us, been even
reduced in size — for example, tumblers, certain pots, brushes,
etc. — are not so from a predilection of the little, but an
appreciation of the true proportion these things should
bear to other existing things, and the needs of the home.

There is also an ethical as well as an artistic reason for
this smallness. The Japanese have long ago learned the
lesson, which some Westerns are but just beginning to
learn, viz., that it is not the most admirable thing to take
a great quantity of any food or drink when a little will
suffice. The highest pleasure is often extracted from the
little things of life. A Japanese " sips " either his wine, tea,
or saJkf, and eats but small quantities of any given food.
With us even the educated are apt to think that to swallow
a quantity is to produce the most pleasing and even satis-
factory result. Watch a working-man taking his beer, or the
lower middle-class woman her tea. The first swallows it in
pints, and thinks he gets the taste best in that way. The
second takes her tea in cups — and frequently several of
them — which would seem of the capacity of bowls to the
Japanese. The latter have learned to sip, to taste, and to
satisfy their needs with small quantities of both meats and


drinks. Their beer glasses do not contain " imperial"
pints — merely a couple or three tablespoonsful ; their little
teacups about the same quantity or less ; their wine glasses,
which in reality, except in the most Europeanised families
and some "foreign" hotels, are small china basins, about
two tablespoonsful of liquid. It is the same with their
tobacco pipes. They contain not a fiftieth of an ounce ;
nearer six grains or even less of the weed. Three or four
whiffs and the native desire for tobacco is satisfied.

There is yet another side to the art of a nation which
does not concern itself with what is produced, but with the
environment and life of the producer.

Amongst the many lessons which may be learned from
the Japanese is the one that, in their idea, environment
counts. That the greatest art is most likely f be, as it is,
most easily produced under favourable conditions.

In some of the most famous workshops in which the
exquisite and almost priceless cloisonnd and lacquer work
is produced, the workers are cut off from the outer world,
and sit in rooms with spotless matting floors in undisturbed
peace. There are no noisy workshops, badly ventilated and
full of the distractions of clamorous streets, in the near
vicinity. In one manufactory we have in mind the outlook
for the workmen is a garden of great beauty, with tiny
bridges spanning miniature streams, where flowers bloom,
and in reed-grown pools the goldfish swim. And it is
frequently the case that even where a factory is specifically
engaged in turning out porcelain, lacquer or stuff goods
for the export market, the environment will neverthe-
less be picturesque, healthful, and elevating. Working
amid such conditions as those we have described, there
is little need for wonder if the goods produced are of an
artistic merit and completeness of workmanship, which
may be looked for in vain from the roaring, stewing, noisy
factories of the West.


But it is not alone the "big" man or the wealthy
worker who produces the best art in Japan. From the tiny-
shops in Tokyo, Kyoto, Nagasaki, Yokohama, and other
large towns has come, and still does come, some of the
most exquisite lacquer, bronzes, silver enamel ware, and
cloisonnd made. Many a Japanese workman will carve,
with a penknife and a sharpened nail, designs which could
only be copied by European workmen with the most
elaborate tools. Upon many a little stall, which has no
claim to the dignified title of shop, are displayed carvings,
silver work, lacquer, and cloisonnd, made in some back-
parlour, which for beauty of design, carefulness of execu-
tion, and taste in colouring, could not be rivalled by that
produced by the most noted workmen employed by the
large manufacturers.

It can be easily gathered from these facts that the life
of the maker of such beautiful things — which in their
method of production and design bear no impress of
mechanical work, but of personality — must have elements
of an artistic nature woven into it. Thus it is that one
finds the pleasures of even the common people in Japan
are of an artistic nature. Almost all the public holidays
synchronise with flower festivals. The Viewing of the
Cherry Blossom in Tokyd is a Japanese " Bank Holiday,"
for example. From morning till night huge crowds of
common folk, as well as of the upper classes, throng the
long avenue of cherry-trees at Mukojima, along the left
bank of the Sumida-gawa, gazing at the wealth of exquisite
blossom silhouetted against the deep blue April sky. There
is, however, no disorder, no struggling, and no special force
of police (as with us) make their appearance to control the
pressing multitude. This world of the workers gazes at the
trees, goes into raptures over the beautiful blossoms, drinks
tea, and eats sweetmeats in family parties at the chaya
(tea-houses) and restaurants, rejoices with the smallest child






there ; and then goes quietly home imbued with a sense of
beauty, and refreshed in mind and heart, as the night wind
commences to stir the trees and shakes down a nacre-
coloured carpet on the earth beneath them.

At the end of the avenue most will have paused to
whisper the pathetic legend which relates to the tiny temple
or shrine, erected on the spot where the body of Mmewaka
was found by a priest after this child of noble family had
been stolen by a slave merchant in the tenth century. The
story tells how, after roaming the kingdom in search of her
little one, the mother came at last to this spot, and found
the people lamenting over a tiny grave beneath a willow-
tree ; and upon inquiry she learned it was her own child
they were mourning, and how, during the night which
followed, her lost son appeared to her in his ghostly
semblance. At dawn, however, the spirit visitor disap-
peared, and nothing remained but the feathery branches of
the weeping willow-tree, and instead of his voice nothing
broke the stillness but the sighing of the wind in the foliage.
Every year in March a commemorative service is held ;
and if rain falls on that day the people say it is Mmewaka
shedding tears.

The flowering of the plum-trees at Kamedo earlier in
the year will draw crowds from every tiny street in Tokyo
to drink in the beauties of the sight. Gwa-rio-bai (the
Resting Dragon plum-trees) are sure of their worshippers,
who will hang poetical tributes to the beauty of the
blossoms, written on tiny strips of paper, to the gnarled
and ancient branches; perpetuating the ideas which
former generations of "plum blossom viewers" have in-
scribed upon the stones in the garden.

So, too, in the time of the iris, lotus, chrysanthe-
mum, peach, wistaria, and other beautiful flowers, each
conveys its lesson of beauty- and artistic significance
to a people whose lives for centuries past have been



attuned to the lessons that the " honourable flowers" can

The art exhibitions of the land are also well patronised ;
and most who can afford to do so have, at one time or
other, visited the Tokyo " Royal Academy," where one
can enjoy, twice yearly, a feast of art at an admission fee
of less than a penny, and a cloak-room charge for the care
of geta and umbrellas of about half a farthing! In pro-
vincial cities and towns the charges are even less, and
many an exhibition of bronze, lacquer work, and cloisonnd
may be entered for a third of the price of the Tokyo

Even the kurumaya spend their spare time in drawing
in sand or the dust of the road ; and the poorest and least
artificially cultured of Japanese will know something — and
frequently not a little — of edaburi, or the arrangement of
the branches of trees. This knowledge too is not merely
a pose ; it is a living expression of the interest that the
Japanese at large take in the more artistic side of life, and
in beautiful natural objects ; and is, therefore, common to
all classes, because all possess the fundamental principles of
artistic appreciation.

To Western minds the idea of a London cabman
amusing himself in the family circle, or when visiting his
friends, by the composition of poetry would be incredible.
But in Japan the kurumaya (jinrikisha boy), the maid-of-
all-work, the artisan, the coolie, the wife of the gardener,
all compose tiny poems of a more or less finished character.
Most, of course, are of the extremely simple form of three
lines of five, seven, and five syllables known as hokku.
But frequently much more ambitious efforts are essayed by
a poet or poetess of the humbler classes, who by long
practice has mastered the simpler forms.

M In so small a matter as cleanness," as a certain writer
has seen fit to phrase it, the Japanese exhibit yet another


side of their widespread and national regard for beauty.
European nations who are noted for cleanliness are not, we
fancy, altogether actuated by the same underlying principle.
With some it is brought about by a certain sense of the
necessity which arises from circumstances of climate ; with
others by a recognition of hygienic needs, or upon moral
grounds. But although all these things may have some
weight with the Japanese — and nowadays more than for-
merly — the underlying idea which makes every man,
woman, and child bathe every day, and sometimes twice a
day, is rather the outcome of an aesthetic than a moral or
hygienic idea.

In regard to Japanese art in its widest sense, it must be
admitted it is based upon both ethical and aesthetic prin-
ciples. That it is a living and powerful influence forming
national life to an extent that art has moulded that of no
other modern nation cannot be denied. The art of Japan
holds its place still in the life of the people, because it is
not merely that of a school or of several schools, which a
vitiation of ideas or change of fashion may affect materially
and cause to fall into disuse or disrepute, but is a means of
expressing the subtle and varied emotions and ideals which
have come to belong to the race through the educative
influence of centuries of thought and culture. It never
fatigues nor loses its freshness of idea, because it never
seeks to portray things seen in their minutest detail ; and
combines the poetry of purest M impressionism" with much
of the realism that convinces.




THE hair of Japanese women plays a very impor-
tant part in social life and customs, and it is
little, therefore, to be wondered at that the
profession of hairdresser should be esteemed an
honourable just as it is a lucrative one. The
visit of the kamiyui is almost always an important function,
for she " builds for time," not merely for a few hours ; and
the exquisite erections which her genius evolves may
remain " up" for three or four days, or even a week. The
fashionable and much-sought-after kamiyui, however, does
not do the preliminary work herself. One of her little
apprentices, deft and skilful, will first clean the hair, wash it,
perfume it, and comb it with an apparently endless series of
different-shaped combs. When she has finished her work,
even if the kamiyui s services were not to follow, the hair
is in such a state of perfection that is seldom seen in
Western countries. The labours of a fashionable Parisian
coiffeur are crude by comparison. Thus it is that in the
morning when O Ku-Sama (the Honourable Lady of the
House), or her equally honourable daughters, perform
domestic duties such as dusting and cleaning, one will find
them doing so with their beautiful glossy heads of hair
carefully and completely covered with either a handker-
chief or a little blue towel. It was to permit of sleep
without disarrangement of the hair arrangement that in


far distant times the makura, or wooden Japanese pillow,
was invented.

Into the grand creations of the kamiyui enter quite a
number of mysterious articles — loops and twists of fine
gold thread or wire, multi-coloured paper-string, small bits
of delicately tinted silk crape, tiny and mysterious steel
springs, and strange, and almost at times weird, basket-
shaped " forms," over which the hair is moulded into the
desired shapes before being finally fixed in place.

One would not imagine that the hair of most Japanese
women, which is straight and rather coarse, would lend
itself to artistic treatment, though the deep brown and
finer hair which is often found adapts itself more easily
to the kamiyui s art. But all things are verily possible to
the latter. Although ringlets are unknown (they do not,
indeed, appeal to the Japanese woman's mind or taste),
what marvellous substitutes are often seen. Shell-like
forms, wisps, whirls, leaf-like foliations, exquisitely ar-
ranged masses in which not a single strand, nay, not even
a single hair, seems to be awry ; each lock of hair, indeed,
passes into, and becomes as surely an integral part of the
whole effect as is each line of a picture.

The art of the kamiyui is a great one, dating back to a
period which is almost lost in the dim and distant past.
Even in the mythical age of Japanese history, generations
of kamiyui exercised their ingenuity and skill in devising
new fashions in which to dress their clients' hair ; and
probably in no country of the world have there been so
many beautiful forms of arrangement as in Japan. These
have, of course, varied greatly throughout the ages ; in-
deed, an expert judge of colour prints, kakemono, or other
works of art in which women's hair-dressing is depicted
can tell its age very accurately by the style of the coiffure.
At one time it has been distinguished for an elaboration
which deserves the epithet marvellous, at another for


graceful beauty, and yet another for a simplicity scarcely
less charming.

In the past, Chinese, Korean, Malay, and Indian ideas
of beauty filtered their way into Japan, and were adopted
and afterwards improved by the more perfect native ar-
tistic sense. It is even possible to trace the influence of
Buddhism itself upon the evolution of women's hair-
dressing, as many of the feminine divinities of its pantheon
are depicted as possessing the most beautifully arranged
tresses. Kwannon, the Tennin, and many others have
most exquisitely arranged coiffures. There are, of course,
many ways of dressing the hair ; even in the provinces one
sees at least a score of styles, whilst in the towns fashion-
able kamiyui have numberless styles at their fingers'

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Online LibraryClive HollandOld and new Japan → online text (page 19 of 23)