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Japanese baby begins to chatter in soft, easily spoken
words which have a definite meaning. Some of these


words or sounds are very similar to the early "talk" of
English babies, but with totally different meanings. For
example : Papa means tobacco ; O-mam ma means boiled
rice ; bd-bd means dress or kimono ; whilst iya means the
baby is not happy, or wishes to refuse a thing ; and ta-ta,
instead of meaning, as with us, good-bye, is the tain,
sandals or other foot-gear.

When the boy baby emerges into childhood, and thence
into boyhood, he first goes to school, and then insensibly
drifts into or is placed in some trade, business, or profession
according to his position in life, aptitude, and in some cases
the precedent afforded by his ancestors. When the little
girl leaves babyhood behind, she finds the life into which
she emerges bright and happy to a degree, but set about
with much etiquette, the ramifications of which it is her duty
and business in life to master; and, of course, from her
earliest years to old age she is subject to the control of the
stronger sex. The first duties that she learns are that her
position in life and the respect paid to her will depend very
largely upon her own cheerful obedience, pleasing manners,
and personal neatness and cleanliness.

Till quite recently there was no career or vocation
open to her, and her duties had always to be household
ones, or, if she belonged to the peasant classes, the work
of the fields. She had always to be dependent upon either
father, husband, or son ; and she early learnt the lesson
that her greatest happiness was to be gained, not by the
possession of intellectual attainments, but by the acqui-
sition of that perfect self-control which is expected of all
Japanese women to even a greater extent than of men.
And even nowadays not only has she to learn to conceal
all outward signs of any disagreeable emotions — pain,
grief, anger, jealousy, for example — but to have always a
cheerful smile and agreeable manners even under the most
trying circumstances. This she is early taught is the


secret of true politeness, and all women who wish to be
well-thought-of and lead happy lives must master it. To
this teaching must be attributed to a very great extent the
very charming and dignified manners of almost all Japanese
women and even of very tiny girls. Whilst the latter are
not forward or " pushing," they are not bashful or awkward,
and there is no self- consciousness to spoil their good
manners. They always exhibit a great consideration for
the comfort of those around them, united to a very child-
like simplicity of manner.

The Japanese child undoubtedly appears to come into
the world already equipped in some respects with the good
manners which so generally, in the case of Western
children, have to be more or less laboriously acquired. It is
difficult, of course, to say how far the charming manners of
the Japanese children are attributable to the fact that their
ancestors for many generations have studied politeness
till it has become a science, and how far to their individual
upbringing. But for ourselves we are inclined to think
that politeness with the Japanese is a partly inherited
tendency fostered by careful instruction in the early years
of each child's existence. And, indeed, it would be strange
if they failed to grow up polite and well behaved, consider-
ing the uniformly gentle and courteous treatment that they
obtain from all those about them, and the unceasing in-
structions they receive in the principles of self-restraint
and thoughtfulness for others.

To a Westerner one of the most curious things in a
Japanese household are the formalities that are universal,
even between brothers and sisters, and the great respect
paid by all the younger members of the family to the more
aged. A younger sister, too, must always pay due respect
to the elder, even in the matter of so small a thing as to
wait for her to enter a room first; and throughout the
family the custom is for the convenience and comfort and


wishes of the older members to be always consulted before
those of the younger.

The little Japanese girl has a happy niche in the family
circle, for she is almost invariably the pet and plaything of
her father and older brothers, and is never addressed by
any one in the family, except by her parents, without the
title of respect to which she is entitled. By the servants
of the household she is always addressed as O Jo Sama,
which is literally young lady ; and if she is an elder sister
she is called by her younger brothers and sisters Ne San,
which means elder sister. On the other hand, if she be a
younger sister her name, such as Mume preceded by the
honorific " O " followed by San, will be that by which she
is addressed by her younger brothers and sisters and by
the servants ; the name being, literally translated, " The
Honourable Miss Plum."

As she passes through the years which intervene
between babyhood and womanhood the Japanese girl is
the recipient of much love and tender care. But, notwith-
standing this, she does not grow up irresponsible or un-
trained, or ignorant of the duties which will devolve upon
her when she attains womanhood. She has to learn all
those duties which fall to the lot of the Japanese wife and
mother of a household ; and nowadays in addition to
these things, which formerly were the chief necessary for
her to learn, she has to attain a certain proficiency in a
knowledge of ordinary subjects such as are taught girls of
Western nations occupying a similar social position to her
own. Not only must she take a certain degree of re-
sponsibility in the household, but she must see that the
tea — which plays so important a part in Japanese social
life — is made for the guests who may be visiting her

A very pleasing custom which prevails in the house of
all, save families of the highest rank, is for the eldest


daughter to serve the tea to visitors herself ; and even in
families of the upper classes, if it is desired to especially
honour a guest, the meal is served not with the family but
separately for the master of the house and his guest, who
are waited upon by the wife or eldest daughter of the
house'. Thus it is that girls of even the highest social
position are generally conversant with all matters relating
to the proper serving and arrangement of a meal. And
should her parents be absent when the guests arrive, it is
the duty of the eldest daughter, and after her of the others,
to entertain the visitors until her father or mother returns.
In the homes of even the wealthy and aristocratic the
daughters of the house perform a considerable part of the
smaller and lighter forms of house work ; and though the
Japanese dwelling has practically no furniture, carpets,
pictures, or superfluous ornaments to be cared for, no
fireplaces or stoves, and but in very few cases windows
to be washed or cleaned, there is still a good deal of work
to be done to keep the home in the spotless condition and
perfect order which generally distinguishes it.

It is in the performance of these various duties that the
young girl learns to fit herself for the taking over of the
cares of a household of her own when the time for her to
do so arrives. Every morning there are the beds, not to
be made, as in European countries, but to be rolled up and
stored away in thzfuktiro dana, or cupboards contrived for
the purpose ; and the mosquito nets have to be taken down,
and the various rooms swept, dusted and aired before
breakfast-time. Afterwards the engawa or veranda, which
runs along the outside of a Japanese house, forming the
space between the shoji or paper screens that take the place
of windows, and the amado or sliding shutters on the out-
side edge of the veranda, which are only closed at night,
or when it is raining and a high wind is blowing, has to
be washed or polished. After breakfast there is the usual


work of the household, consisting of washing-up, cleaning
pots and pans, and preparing for the next meal to be done ;
and then later in the day the lady of the house, or one of
the daughters, will probably do the marketing.

It is far more the custom in Japan than in England for
various vendors of fish, fruits, vegetables, pickles, etc., to
come to the door with these articles ; and it is quite possible
in the suburbs of a large town to do almost all one's shop-
ping at home without the trouble of visiting the town.
After the provisions of the day have been purchased, the
ladies of the household are at liberty to sit down quietly to
needlework, letter-writing, painting, or studying, as the
taste of the individual may be.

In all Japanese households where the family is of any
size there is a great deal of sewing to be done, for not only
have many of the dresses worn to be taken to pieces before
they can be successfully washed, but a large part of the
clothes of Japanese women of even the upper middle
classes are made by their own fingers, and the women of
the lower classes, week in week out, find plenty to do in
picking to pieces the clothing of the household for the
wash, remaking it, turning, dyeing, and renovating the
various garments as they become shabby, until, indeed,
amongst the poorer classes there is often ultimately but
very little of the original articles left.

Washing in Japan is a very different operation to
washing in England. Much of it is done (as is the case
on the Continent) out of doors, and instead of the steam
and pungent odours of soap which arise from the British
wash-tub, and turns many a Western laundry into a place
of indisputable unhealthiness, the Japanese housewife and
laundress use plenty of cold water and no soap, and yet
manage to get the clothes as clean as their European
sisters. In place of ironing, cotton garments are hung up
on a bamboo pole passed through the armholes, and are


pulled smooth and straight before they dry. Whilst silken
garments, which are almost invariably taken to pieces before
washing, are smoothed out upon a long washing-board
whilst wet, and are then set up, stretched on the board, in
the sun to dry. A Japanese laundry is often a very pic-
turesque spot, situated in the tree-shaded courtyard of a
house near a well or running stream, from which plenty of
water for the cleansing operation can be obtained.

In addition to being able to wash her clothes and those
of her sisters and brothers, the Japanese girl has to know
how to prepare many of the simpler dishes which form the
backbone of Japanese meals. The proper cooking of rice,
which forms the staple food of the poorer and even the
lower middle-class household, is an art in itself, and is so
important, indeed, that a woman who marries and cannot
cook rice to her husband's satisfaction is liable to be sent
back to her parents !

Then, in addition to the cooking of rice, the Japanese
girl must learn to make the various varieties of soups which
figure in the average Japanese menu, and she must also
know how to prepare mochi, the rice dough which is used
at the New Year, and is sent as a present to friends and
others on festival occasions. And not only must she know
how to prepare the food as we have indicated, but she
must also acquire the knowledge of serving it daintily and
appetisingly ere she is considered to have fitted herself for
the duties and responsibilities of married life. But if the
Japanese girl has many things to learn in connection with
household management, in the early years of her life her
days are by no means devoid of pleasures and recreations,
and on the whole her life may be said to be a remarkably
happy one.

There are two ceremonies in connection with the more
or less religious part of the little Japanese girl's life which
deserve mention. Three times during her life does she


visit the temple to seek the blessings of the god under
whose protection she is placed. On the first occasion she
is carried there as a baby ; on the second she toddles there
at three years of age, when her hair, which has previously
been shaved into fancy patterns, is allowed to grow natur-
ally for the ultimate and elaborate coiffure of girlhood ; and
the third time she visits the temple at the age of seven,
when she adopts the stiff wide obi, which is the pride of
Japanese womanhood, in place of the soft and narrow
engirdling sash of childhood.

It is on the 15th of November in each year that these
ceremonies take place, and the scene at one of the larger
temples on that day, when hundreds of gaily dressed, smil-
ing and happy children throng the courts in company with
their parents, intent upon the visit to the temple and the
making of the requisite offerings, is one of the prettiest
and most interesting imaginable.

Little boys also visit the temple at the ages of three
and five years, for the purpose of seeking the blessing and
further protection of the god into whose care they were
commended at their miya mairi of babyhood. The first
occasion is when the little boy goes to give thanks ;
and the second is when he goes back to the temple,
wearing for the first time the manly hakama or pleated

Thus it is on the 15th of November of each year
crowds of little girls and boys of three years old, really
hardly more than babies, go clattering along boldly on
their clogs with bigger boys and girls who are there to
commemorate, in the case of the first, the donning of
hakama, and, in the case of the second, the first wearing
of the obi, forming a picture of much charm and colour
and kaleidoscopic interest. The children with their smiling
faces and graceful ways dominate everything, and seem,
indeed, to thrust quite into the background for the nonce


the elders who accompany them. It is a children's festival,
and just as in Western countries the religious observances
have also a material side of junketing and feasting, so one
finds the temple precincts crowded with all the sweetmeat-
sellers, and the toy merchants, and vendors of other trifles.
In the trees and on poles flags fly gaily, drums are beaten,
and one hears the curious sounds emitted by the toy
trumpets which children blow.

In a pavilion near the temple itself there is a kagura
dance in progress, which is watched by a crowd of
chattering, laughing, smiling, and gesticulating children, on
whose little round faces and in whose twinkling, shining
eyes can be read a positive ecstasy of enjoyment. Up and
down the steps which lead to the temple itself passes an
unending procession of little ones ascending and descending;
whilst within the temple white-robed priests are engaged in
the ceremonies from morning till night. In the vestibule
to the shrine itself, where there is a priest to receive them,
groups of children make their offerings, and await their
turn to pass in. And whilst they wait they can hear the
droning utterances of the priests, and, when this comes at
last to an end, they pass into the sanctuary to take the
place of the other children who have just finished their
worship, and receive the amulet which is the record and
reward of their attendance.

And then there remains for the little ones no more
ceremony — nothing but pleasure, and so they pass out into
the temple grounds to take part in the simple games, to
purchase souvenirs of the occasion, to watch the dancing,
and ultimately to go home, a tired but happy throng, for
whom the day will for a long time be a pleasant memory.

Of course, the little Japanese girl has plenty of dolls, and
the great girls' festival of the year is the Feast of Dolls,
which takes place on the third day of the third month and
lasts for three days. But though these days may be well


called the apotheosis of dolldom, dolls play an important
part in the amusements of the children of Japan, as all those
of other lands, throughout the year. And there are many
other games and kinds of toys beloved of Japanese children,
some of them only played or used at stated seasons of the
year, and others in favour all the year round. At the New
Year one of the most popular outdoor games is battledore
and shuttlecock, and many a pretty picture is formed in
the gardens of the rich and the little courtyards of the
poor, at street corners, and in the open spaces and parks,
by groups of the girls in their bright-hued, wide-sleeved
dresses playing this game.

The little Japanese girl is a singularly charming and
elf-like creature, whose graceful movements in playing the
various games to which they are addicted provides not the
least pleasant of many charming sights in the land of the
chrysanthemum. The extraordinary agility with which
they bend and turn and spring about, though wearing the
awkward-looking, high, lacquered clogs, can never fail to be
a source of wonderment to all Western beholders.

Then there are several games played with balls ; and
many a Japanese child has a dexterity in catching balls,
and even in manipulating two or three of them at one and
the same time, which would not do discredit to a juggler.
Hide-and-seek is an almost world-wide pastime, and there
is, of course, a Japanese variety of this exciting and mirth-
provoking sport.

In addition to the games we have mentioned there are
many English and American outdoor sports and pastimes
which have been adopted by the youngsters of modern
Japan, such as lawn tennis, tennis, basket ball, and various
more or less athletic games, such as running, jumping, etc.
And in the races great ingenuity is often shown in the
devising of some new and graceful development of them.

Among the sports which are great favourites with



children is one which would appear to be the Japanese
equivalent of an English egg-and-spoon race. It consists
of balancing a ball on a narrow-shaped battledore, made of
some hard wood, whilst running between two points. When
one remembers how difficult it is to do this with a spoon-
shaped receptacle, one marvels to see even tiny children
balancing the ball upon this flat and slippery surface whilst
running at a smart trot.

Then another pretty sport which one sees occasionally
at children's festivals is as follows : Four bare poles of a
suitable height are driven into the ground at some dis-
tance, say a hundred yards from the starting-point, and at
the latter are laid upon the ground four branches of real or
artificial cherry-blossom — according to the season of the
year — and four pieces of ribbon for each competitor. At a
given signal each girl picks up one branch of the cherry-
blossom and a piece of ribbon and runs to one of the poles,
to which she ties it. This is repeated four times, until all
the branches have been fastened in place, the winner
being the girl who first succeeds in attaching her four
branches of cherry-blossom to her pole.

Of the indoor games, of which there are many, one of
the most popular, and at the same time instructive, is that
known as Hyaku ninisshu, which means the " poems of
a hundred poets." There are two hundred cards to a
complete pack for playing this game, and on each card is
printed either the first or last half of one of the hundred
noted Japanese poems which are well known to all Japanese
of whatever station in life. All Japanese poems are very
short, containing only thirty-one syllables, and they divide
quite naturally into two parts. The method of playing
the game is as follows : Half the number of cards, which
contain the latter halves of the poems, are dealt out
amongst the players and are laid face upwards before
them ; the remaining hundred cards, which contain the


first halves of the poems, are handed to the person who
has been selected to act as reader. His duty is to draw
a card from the pack in his hand and read the line which
is written on it, the players having to remember the
line which follows the one read and is found upon the
cards which have been dealt out as equally as possible.
Each player not only watches his own cards but also
those of his fellow-players, with a view of immediately
picking up that which completes the poem read by the
reader and laying it aside. If another player sees the card
first, he can take it (much, indeed, as one does in the well-
known English game of "Snap"), and, having done this,
he hands to the careless player, who has overlooked the
fact that the end of the poem was to be found amongst his
own cards, several cards from his own hand. The winner
of the game is he or she who first gets rid of all his cards.
Very frequently the game is played by two lots of players,
who arrange themselves in two lines down the centre of a
room, and the sides play against each other, the winner
being that side which first disposes of all its cards. The
game is not only an interesting but an instructive one,
teaching quickness of thought and motion, and imparting
to the little Japanese who play it a knowledge of some of
the great national classical poems.

It is surprising how considerable a knowledge even
quite young children have of their national poetry. It
would not be an easy matter to play a similar game in
England with quotations from one or other of the great
English poets, except with unusually cultured adults for

The children of Japan are as well, if not better, pro-
vided with fairy tales as those of other lands, and more
especially in the cold winter evenings, when they and other
members of the family are gathered round the charcoal
fire or kotatsu, with their feet and knees tucked for warmth


under the quilt which is spread on a wooden frame above
the brazier, are these fairy tales told to them by either
nurse, grandmother, or older brothers or sisters. And the
Japanese children, as do the little ones of other lands,
cower or shiver, or laugh and smile as they listen to these
tales of wonderful palaces of the sea-gods and river-gods
and spirit-beings of the woods and mountains, or of
monsters of terrible mien. The marvellous adventures of
Momontaro, in his fights with the Oni, also never fail to
interest and even entrance the younger members of the
party ; and, indeed, this fairy-tale hero, which may perhaps
be considered the Japanese " Jack and the Bean-stalk,"
usually remains the hero of the children until they are old
enough to be told and to understand the daring exploits
of the real heroes whose deeds are enshrined in national

The theatre, too, also plays a not unimportant part in
the amusements and even the instruction of the Japanese
girl and boy, and an all-day visit to it, which to us
might seem to be pregnant with boredom and fatigue,
is one of the great pleasures of the youthful Japanese ;
where, seated on the floor, in a kind of box shut off from
those adjoining it, little boys and girls witness, in company
with their parents and brothers and sisters, the heroic his-
torical plays which are indeed, nowadays, almost the sole
survivals of old Japan. Here, whilst she learns something
of the spirit of undying loyalty and devotion which belonged
to those far-off days, and witnesses the self-sacrifice and
self-abnegation which the heroines of these plays invariably
exhibit, she herself — though shaken in turn by laughter
and paroxysms of keenly felt horror and fear — yet learns
in a very vivid way the spirit which animated her femi-
nine ancestors of long ago, which spirit must also animate
her if she herself would be a worthy and well-esteemed
descendant of these heroines of old Japan.


It is whilst surrounded by the influences, duties, and
amusements such as we have described that the girls of
Japan, who, at the age of sixteen, are often charming women
of the world in the best sense of that phrase — pure, sweet,
amiable, and possessed of a great power of self-control, and
an astounding knowledge of how to act tactfully on all
occasions — grow up to womanhood.

And although the higher side of her nature, as we
Westerns esteem it, has been little developed, and no
obvious religious teaching or truths have surrounded her
soul with a clearer and higher atmosphere, she has never-
theless still much of the unconscious and beautiful spirit of
childhood still remaining in her, and is almost always free

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Online LibraryClive HollandOld and new Japan → online text (page 8 of 23)