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or curios, the relative beauty, value, or uniqueness of
which depend upon the honour or regard in which the
expected guest is held ; such a system of concentrating
all the decorative charm in a house being in strong con-
trast to the frequently superfluous ornamentation of more
Western dwellings.

Thus it is that when one enters a Japanese home of
even the wealthy classes one is not bewildered by a super-
abundance of the material signs of wealth. Nor is one's
eye confused nor mind distracted by the multitude of
beautiful things, as it is in the mansions of Western
peoples. And if at the same time one is acquainted with
the rules of Japanese etiquette, all sense of strangeness
and stiffness is banished, as comment upon the flower
arrangement, the beauty of the woodwork, or the artist
who painted the kakemono is permissible, and is even
expected from the guest. How much more agreeable a

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custom than being driven back upon the subject of the
weather ! Not only are the host and hostess pleased by
the interest shown in their possessions, but they are at
once launched upon topics of conversation which they
will enthusiastically discuss.

The principal material used for decorative and con-
structive work in Japanese architecture is bamboo. Partly
by reason of the long period of Japanese isolation from
the rest of the world, and partly because of the people's
genius for concentration, the almost universal use of this
one material came to be adopted. Whilst other nations
ranged many countries, or perhaps almost the whole of the
civilised world, for materials to be applied in the construc-
tion and adornment of their homes, the Japanese concen-
trated all their energies upon the application to all their
needs of the one product of the kind which their native soil
provided. And it must be admitted that no other material
exists better calculated, by its varied and adaptable qualities,
to serve the needs of an isolated people.

This elegant growth, which sometimes attains the
height of seventy feet in a few months, which is straight
as an arrow, and combines the lightness of cork with
almost the strength and hardness of iron, smooth growing
and easily split, and as resilient as it is rigid, has been
applied by the Japanese to all their needs. Every portion
is turned to good account by their ingenuity ; it is utilised
from the feathery tip of its topmost foliage to its very
roots ; and its presence is discoverable in every depart-
ment of the nation's domestic life and economy. Though
it is erroneous to suppose that the houses are built of it,
yet in them it is everywhere to be found — in their adorn-
ments and furnishings, and in most of the appliances
which are used in the life of the home.

In recent years there have been some attempts to
engraft European features upon Japanese architecture,



and in some homes to have " European " rooms. These
attempts have probably arisen from the desire the Japanese
have to adopt Western ideas if at all practicable, or likely
in any way to lead to greater efficiency or progress. It
cannot, however, be claimed that these attempts have been
successful. The houses which are known nowadays in
Japan as "foreign" are indeed so in that they conform
to no known school of architecture, either Occidental or
Oriental. And it is difficult to imagine anything more
disfiguring or more distressing in its effect than the
attempts which here and there have been made, as it
were, to engraft upon Japanese houses Western features.
Only in the case of a few public buildings has this
Europeanising been at all successful ; and even these
attempts look incongruous amid the lighter and more
artistic native buildings. A Japanese room may at first
appear bare, and under unfavourable conditions almost
cheerless to a Westerner (but can never do so if seen with
the beautiful Japanese sunshine streaming in soft, golden
light through the shoji), but most people will agree that
it is infinitely less distressing than an " European " room
in a Japanese house. One is confronted by an incon-
gruousness so complete that one turns with delight to
the simplicity and artistic feeling which permeates the
true Japanese apartment.

In only two respects can a Japanese house be adversely
criticised from a Western point of view, if one is willing to
admit its great charm and beauty of construction. The
first point is its lack of privacy. The second its permeable-
ness to cold. Regarding the first (which is a defect that
does not so present itself to the Japanese themselves) it
may be said that greater privacy — which may possibly in
the near future become accepted as desirable owing to
changing conditions of civilisation — could easily be secured
without loss of the distinctive and artistic features of native


construction by substituting, at least, in the case of some
rooms, more solid walls in place of the sliding shoji (outer
panels) or karakami of paper. As regards the second point,
it may be said that the Japanese themselves are through
long centuries of training impervious or at least inured to
the effects of cold. And to change their admirably
hygienic and airy rooms and homes for the stuffy and
seldom well-ventilated apartments of Western civilisation
is not only unnecessary, but might have disastrous physical

The inner life of the Japanese home, the material portion
of which we have sought to describe and explain, is set
around with many interesting and even beautiful customs
and observances which differentiate it from that of other
lands. The place of Japanese women is even nowadays,
when vital changes are surely, and in some respects even
swiftly, taking place, so largely in the home that all the
quaint ceremonies, superstitions, and myths which relate to
its everyday affairs are of far greater importance to them
than to the male members of the family circle.

In the control of O Ku Sama (the Honourable Lady of
the House) are the yearly round of festivals, for each of
which special food has to be prepared ; the observances
connected with births, marriages, and deaths ; the house-
hold worship ; and circumstances arising out of emergencies
such as sickness, fires, or earthquakes, or of the frequent
changes of residence which are so common in Japan, and
necessitate such packing up and unpacking of the house-
hold goods and wardrobes.

In every Japanese household of the better and old-
fashioned type there is found the little shrine which is the
centre, and as it were crystallisation, of the religious life of
the inmates. If the latter are of the Buddhist faith, there
is the Butsudan or Buddha-shelf where is placed the
image of Buddha, to which gifts of food are made, and


before which prayers are offered and incense burned. If,
on the other hand, the household is Shintoist, the shrine is
called the kami-ciana or god-shelf, on which is placed the
gohei in vases ; vessels, and receptacles for drink and food ;
and a tiny lamp, usually merely a saucer filled with oil, in
which floats a piece of pith as a wick. The gohei or
sacred symbols of the Shintd faith are pieces of white
paper, folded and cut in a peculiar manner, stuck in vases.
Before this shrine daily offerings have to be made accom-
panied by reverential clapping of hands, and on feast days
special ones are made, and the observances are of a less
simple character.

But whether the family be of the Buddhist or Shinto
faith, it is the mother or wife who attends to the religious
observances, and upon her devolves the placing of the rice
and wine before the ancestral tablets. It is she, too, who
lights the little, twinkling lamp each night, around which
soft-winged moths circle to their doom, and she, too, who
sees that the proper food is prepared and set out on the
Butsudan or kami-dana.

As each child of the household grows up, it gathers
from various sources and receives on various occasions
amulets ; and these, though always worn when in full dress
or on ceremonial occasions, are many of them too precious
to be permitted to run the risk of loss in play, and so it is
one of the many little duties of the mother (or other female
relative taking her place) to guard them carefully as talis-
mans against the risks and evils which surround the lives
of children. Many of these amulets — those in particular
given on the occasion of the miya mairi — are merely slips
of wood or pieces of paper written upon, and bearing the
seal of the temple issuing them. Some of these charms
are supposed to be safeguards against certain kinds of
sickness ; others to preserve the sight ; others to guard
from accident ; and yet others to give the possessor a good

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kind of handwriting ; or to act as general safeguards
against ill and evil spirits ; and yet others to ensure pros-
perity in the child's future life. All these are kept together
by the mother, and when the little owners reach years of
discretion pass into their own keeping. They are, as a rule,
finally stored carefully away in some little-used drawer or
other suitable receptacle, where they remain until the death
of their owner. Amongst the many curious and super-
stitious treasures which are hoarded and held in esteem by
the Japanese, none is more remarkable than the small
parcel of white paper marked with the name of the child,
which contains a portion of the umbilical cord saved at the
time of each individual's birth, and preserved till his or
her death, and then buried with its owner, so as to
furnish him or her with the means of a reincarnation.

Though a fortune-teller is consulted with reference to
the lucky days for important events, such as the commence-
ment of a long journey, a marriage, or a removal to another
home, it is upon the mother of the family that devolves the
determining of the lucky or unlucky days for the beginning
or transaction of various kinds of business, and for the
events of minor importance in family life. This arises
from the fact that although the Japanese recognise that
they cannot be for ever running to the professional fortune-
teller, they firmly believe there is bad luck lying in wait
in the background to thwart their plans if their business
operations, journeys, marriages, etc., are not undertaken at
the proper times and seasons, and that by a due observance
of the latter good fortune may be assured.

The Japanese calendar is divided into cycles of twelve
years' duration, each year named after a certain animal, so
are the days and hours also divided into twelve, each bear-
ing the names of the same animals, the signs of the Chinese
zodiac. The animals are as follows : — the rat, bull, tiger,
hare, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, cock, dog, and


bear. The superstition is that each animal brings its own
variety of good or bad fortune in the hour, day, or year
over which it is deemed to preside.

The Japanese believe that it is only by a skilful
balancing of the pros and cons of these things that the
fortune-teller or other person giving the matter considera-
tion can determine the luck or ill-luck of any particular
hour or day in any year. For example, the dog is un-
lucky ; but it is possible that this may be neutralised or
even turned into good luck by the combination of the hare
or tiger which may happen to preside over the same hour,
as there are usually three animals of different portents
presiding over human destinies in each hour. As another
example, a person born in the year of the rat should never
lack wealth ; but if born in the day or hour of the rat, in
the year of the rat his good fortune will be doubled. But,
on the other hand, a person born in the year of the rat
may, nevertheless, have poverty and not riches if the day
and hour of birth fall under the domination of the monkey
or any other unlucky animal. It can be easily understood
that the gift of determining these things is much esteemed,
and the skill and knowledge necessary to do so great. In
fact, prophecy by the Japanese calendar is a complicated
matter; but there are, happily for the prophets, many
loopholes when things do not happen as they were

Few families enter upon the building of a new house in
Japan, or even determine the position of the front door,
without consulting the oracles. And when the roof is
ready to be placed in position (the work of fitting the
beams, etc., having been performed in the builder's yard
or on some convenient and close-adjoining plot), the
fortune-teller is consulted as to whether the day chosen
by the builder for the putting on of the roof is a propitious
one. And the same form is gone through at other stages


of the construction ; and also when the house is completely
finished and ready for immediate occupation. Everything
is prepared ; the furniture, beds, family clothing, and other
belongings from the old house are ready packed, and the
fortune-teller is consulted.

The move is made on the first favourable opportunity,
and very early in the morning of the day chosen the
relatives and friends of the family begin to make their
appearance ; often, when unable to come themselves, send-
ing their servants with gifts of provisions. To the not
inconsiderable crowd which gathers is added every shop-
keeper ox jinrikisha man, or their representatives, who has
ever enjoyed, or hopes in the future to enjoy, the custom
or patronage of the " moving " family. There is thus no
lack of assistance, and the family move is accomplished
with commendable speed and comfort.

During the day all the helpers, whether invited or not,
must be fed at proper intervals, and when the long day's
work comes to an end and the helpers depart one by one
to their respective homes, it is the business of the mistress
of the house to see that every servant or representative of
a business firm who has assisted receives a present of
money commensurate with the services rendered, and in
keeping with the social status of the family they have
helped. This present is always done up neatly in white
paper. Then there remains a further duty for the lady of
the house, when all have gone, and the amado or outside
shutters are closed for the night — the making of a list of all
to whom the family have been in anyway indebted. To
every one of these, within a short time, some acknowledg-
ment of their services and kindness must be made, either
in the form of a call or by the sending of a gift.

After the family are comfortably settled in their new
home the mistress of the house sends out to all the neigh-
bours a kind of macaroni, or soba, which is to announce the


arrival of the new family. The number of neighbours to
whom the soda is despatched is determined by several
quaint means. If the house is one of only a few in a
compound, it is sent to all in the enclosure ; but if, on the
other hand, the houses are very numerous it is sent merely
to the nearest five, or perhaps to those who may draw
water from the same well. A curious modern develop-
ment of this custom of soda sending is to send not the
article itself, but an order for it on the nearest restaurant
at which it can be obtained.

With reference to the universal custom of giving
presents on all occasions which prevails in Japan, it may
be remarked that it seems to be less a sentimental than
a provident custom. Presents would appear to be chiefly
given (except when for services rendered) for the purpose
of conciliating those whose enmity is feared, or insuring
the services in advance of persons whose assistance may
possibly at some time be needed. The provident house-
wife always thus ingratiates herself with the carpenter, the
fireman, and others of whose help she may, at some future
time, be in need. The first named, known as Daiku San,
stands high in popular estimation and amongst his fellows
of the artisan class ; and, in fact, still ranks next to the
samurai, and above both farmers and shopkeepers. And
when the " Flowers of Tokio," "Tokto no hana " (by which
pretty and vivid phrase the Japanese describes fires), bloom,
it is well to be friends with the fireman. And after the
fire is out (and sometimes whilst one's house is burning)
Daiku San appears on the scene intent on business, and
ready in a few days — if he has been propitiated with
previous gifts — to build another house even prettier than
that which in a few moments may have become a small
heap of smouldering ashes.

Should a fire break out in the vicinity of the home of a
provident woman, on their arrival the fireman will wet the


roof and walls (if the hose works and there is sufficient
water), seal the storehouse (supposed to be fireproof), into
which all portable articles are swiftly carried, and light the
great alarm lanterns at the gates by the roadside to let her
friends and neighbours know that her house is in danger,
and thus summon them to her assistance. None who see
these signal lights will disregard their mute appeal ; and
very soon there will be a band of willing and energetic
helpers, who will not only do what is possible to prevent
the threatened catastrophe, but will, should the house after
all catch fire and be burned down, take the homeless ones,
and all the belongings which may have been rescued, into
their own hospitable dwellings.

Those who neglect the little presents, made as deposits
in the bank of goodwill, to be drawn on in future emer-
gencies, will probably find when trouble arises assistance
is not forthcoming as promptly as could be wished. When
the amado need repairing or the roof leaks, the carpenter
will discover he has a more pressing job elsewhere and
cannot come at once ; when the garden has been ripped
up or destroyed by a typhoon, the gardener who could put
it all straight has no time just then to come and see to
things ; and when a fire breaks out in a neighbour's house,
the firemen will not attend to preventive measures until
they have done so for every one else, so that if the house
is not actually destroyed it will have been injured by
scorching and fire and water.

The bath holds an important position in the Japanese
home. It is a general custom to bathe every afternoon,
and by long usage the Japanese have learned to take their
baths at a temperature which is at first impossible for the
European, and, if necessary and convenient to do so, in
public! It must be admitted, however, that nowadays
the custom of bathing at one's own doorway, and mean-
while chatting to neighbours across the street, is more con-


fined than it used to be even a few years ago to the
remoter and smaller towns and villages.

The home bath-tub is oval in shape, varying somewhat
in size, and generally about twenty to thirty inches deep.
At one end is the pipe of the stove which runs down
through the bottom, and at the bottom is a grate for the
charcoal fire which heats the water. The general practice
— and one which should certainly be followed by the inex-
perienced — is to get into the tub when the water is only
comfortably warm, and to sit there until the heat has
increased to as great a degree as can be borne. In fine
weather the bath, which is fairly portable, is often taken in
the garden, and callers may or may not be invited to have
a chat with the host or hostess whilst the bath is in pro-
gress. The Japanese themselves have by long custom
become so inured to heat that they can enjoy bathing in
water at a temperature of from 120 to 125 , but it takes
a lot of practice to make anything over 1 1 5 grateful and
comforting to a European skin !

The Japanese custom of indiscriminate and public
bathing is not perhaps easy to understand ; but it must
be remembered that their standards of decency are entirely
different from our own. According to the Japanese stan-
dard, any exposure of the person (even total exposure)
which is merely incidental to cleanliness, health, or con-
venience whilst doing necessary work, is perfectly modest
and permissible ; but, on the other hand, an exposure of
the person when made for show, however slight, is indeli-
cate and to be condemned. Thus it is that Japanese
women who would unhesitatingly take their bath in public
if the necessity arose, would regard with horror the wear-
ing of a costume which was designed to show off the
figure though still completely covering it, or which was
dtcolleti to the extent in vogue in English drawing-rooms
or at English dinner-parties. Strange as this attitude


may appear, it would be doing the women of Japan a
gross injustice to conclude that the Japanese as a whole
are in the least wanting in a sense of decency, or that the
women are not of the most refined and womanly modesty.

In this, as in other things, it is only when the Japanese
point of view has been mastered that much which at first
sight appears inconsistent and even ridiculous is clearly
understood, and it becomes possible to do justice to a
people who are often in these matters misrepresented.

In the Japanese home people don't go to bed ; the
beds come to them. One advantage there is in this
custom : any room can be used as a sleeping apartment
if necessary, as there is no bedstead to be moved or fixed
up, and one can go to bed with a minimum of trouble at
any time. It is only necessary to express a wish to sleep
or retire for the night, to clap one's hands and exclaim
"Futon motte koi" (Bring the quilts), and the thing is
done. The little maid-servant who answers the summons
hastens to the fukuro dana> or cupboard in which the bed
is kept during the day, and in a twinkling the futon, which
are rolled up on the two shelves, are taken out and spread
on the white matting floor. They are placed one upon
the other, and, if the family have adopted sheets, one of
these is placed upon the top of the futon. Then comes
the big top futon or yagu, which has sleeves like a kimono,
and is longer than the under ones and is rolled up or
merely piled up at the foot of the bed ready to be drawn
up over one when one has lain down. At the head of the
bed is the makura or grooved pillow, about the size of a
deep cigar-box, and made of choice woods in the case of
the better classes. In shape it is like a truncated pyramid ;
and in the hollow in which the neck of the sleeper is
intended to rest is a tiny bran-stuffed pillow, covered with
several sheets of clean paper, which are removed each
morning and replaced with fresh ones.


A first experience of the use of the makura is, to the
Westerner at all events, a painful one. In the morning
the neck feels as though it had been badly bruised, and
the joints as though they were rusty hinges in con-
siderable need of careful lubrication. But after a time
one becomes not only accustomed to the "Japanese
pillow," but to find it not so devoid of comfort as one at
first was forced to suppose. In the end of the makura
will generally be found a drawer, in which is placed tobacco
— very light in colour and mild in flavour — and also pro-
bably pipes — tiny things with bowls not much larger
inside than the tip of one's little finger. If they are not
in the makura, the thoughtful host will have seen that
they have been placed on a tray beside the tobako ban,
a small wooden box in which is the haifuki, a combina-
tion of spittoon and ash-tray, and the hibachi or little
charcoal brazier, by means of which the pipe is lighted..

Then, provided with the kaya or green mosquito net,
hung around the bed by four cords at its corners, which
when one is inside not only keeps off the mosquitoes, but
also, alas ! deprives the inmate of the tent-like structure of
a good deal of fresh air, one can turn in. But before one
can finally retire to rest the rosoku (candles with wicks
made of paper) or rampu (the lamp), whichever method
of illumination the household may affect, must be removed,
and in their place the andon or night-lamp is lighted. It
is large, square, and made of white paper, and is lighted
by a taper fed by a small saucer of oil inside.

The little woman — perhaps she is a daughter of the
house — who has made all these preparations for one's
comfort will be impatient for one to get into bed. She
will not understand any shyness on the part of the guest,

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Online LibraryClive HollandOld and new Japan → online text (page 6 of 23)