John Paris.

Kimono online

. (page 10 of 24)
Online LibraryJohn ParisKimono → online text (page 10 of 24)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

foreigners are officially introduced to the mysteries of Japanese
_cuisine_ and the charms of Japanese _geisha_. Here hangs a picture of
Lord Kitchener himself, scrambled over by laughing _mousmés_, who
seem to be peeping out of his pockets and buttonholes, a Gulliver in

Both Geoffrey and Asako had treated the invitation as a joke; but at
the last moment, while they were threading the mysterious streets
of the still unfamiliar city, they both confessed to a certain
nervousness. They were on the brink of a plunge into depths unknown.
They knew nothing whatever about the customs, tastes and prejudices of
the people with whom they were to mix - not even their names and their

"Well, we're in for it," said Geoffrey, "we must see it through now."

They drove up a steep gravel drive and stopped before a broad Japanese
entrance, three wide steps like altar stairs leading up to a dark
cavernous hall full of bowing women and men in black clothes, similar,
silent and ghostlike. The first impression was lugubrious, like a
feast of mutes.

Boots off! Geoffrey knew at least this rule number one in Japanese
etiquette. But who were these fluttering women, so attentive in
removing their cloaks and hats? Were they relatives or waitresses?
And the silent groups beyond? Were they Fujinami or waiters? The two
guests had friendly smiles for all; but they gazed helplessly for a
familiar face.

An apparition in evening dress with a long frock coat and a purple tie
emerged from that grim chorus of spectators. It was Ito, the lawyer.
The free and easy American manner was checked by the responsibility
of those flapping coat-tails. He looked and behaved just like a
shop-walker. After a stiff bow and handshake he said:

"Very pleased to see you, Sir, and Mrs. Barrington, also. The Fujinami
family is proud to make your entertainment."

Geoffrey expected further introductions; but the time had not yet
come. With a wave of the arm Mr. Ito added:

"Please step this way, Sir and Lady."

The Barringtons with Ito led the procession; and the mutes closed
in behind them. Down endless polished corridors they passed with
noiseless steps over the spotless boards. The only sound was the
rustling of silk garments. To closed eyes they might have seemed like
the arrival of a company of dowagers. The women, who had at first
received them, were still fluttering around them like humming-birds
escorting a flight of crows. To one of them Geoffrey owed his
preservation. He would have struck his forehead against a low doorway
in the darkness; but she touched the lintel with her finger and then
laid her tiny hand on Barrington's tall shoulder, laughing and saying
in infantile English:

"English _danna san_ very high!"

They came to a sudden opening between paper walls. In a little
room behind a table stood a middle-aged Japanese couple as stiff as
waxworks. For an instant Geoffrey thought they must be the cloakroom
attendants. Then, to his surprise, Ito announced:

"Mr. and Mrs. Fujinami Gentaro, the head of the Fujinami family.
Please walk in and shake hands."

Geoffrey and his wife did as they were directed. Three mutual bowings
took place in absolute silence, followed by a handshake. Then Ito

"Mr. and Mrs. Fujinami Gentaro wish to say they are very pleased you
both come to-night. It is very poor food and very poor feast, they
say. Japanese food is very simple sort of thing. But they ask you
please excuse them, for what they have done they have done from a good

Geoffrey was mumbling incoherently, and wondering whether he was
expected to reply to this oration, when Ito again exclaimed, "Please
step this way."

They passed into a large room like a concert hall with a stage at one
end. There were several men squatting on the floor round _hibachi_
smoking and drinking beer. They looked like black sheep browsing.

These were joined by the mutes who followed the Barringtons. All of
these people were dressed exactly alike. They wore white socks, a dark
kimono almost hidden by the black cloak upon which the family crest - a
wreath of wisteria (_fuji_) foliage - shone like a star on sleeves and
neck, and by the fluted yellowish skirt of heavy rustling silk. This
dress, though gloomy and sacerdotal, was dignified and becoming; but
the similarity was absurd. It looked like a studied effect at a fancy
dress ball. It was particularly exasperating to the guests of honour
who were anxious to distinguish their relatives and to know them
apart; but Ito alone, with his European clothes and his purple tie,
was conspicuous and unmistakable.

"He is like Mrs. Jarley," thought Geoffrey, "he explains the

In the middle of the room was a little group of chairs of the weary
beast of burden type, which are requisitioned for public meetings. Two
of them were dignified by cushions of crimson plush. These were for
Geoffrey and Asako.

Among the black sheep there was no movement beyond the steady staring
of some thirty pairs of eyes. When the Harringtons had been enthroned,
the host and hostess approached them with silent dragging steps and
downcast faces. They might have been the bearers of evil tidings. A
tall girl followed behind her parents.

Mrs. Fujinami Shidzuyé and her daughter, Sadako, were the only women
present. This was a compromise, and a consideration for Asako's
feelings. Mr. Ito had proposed that since a lady was the chief guest
of honour, therefore all the Fujinami ladies ought to be invited to
meet her. To Mr. Fujinami's strict conservative mind such an idea
was anathema. What! Wives at a banquet! In a public restaurant! With
_geisha_ present! Absurd - and disgusting! _O tempora! O mores_!

Then, argued the lawyer, Asako must not be invited. But Asako was
the _clou_ of the evening; and besides, an English gentleman would be
insulted if his wife were not invited too. And - as Mr. Ito went on
to urge - any woman, Japanese or foreign, would be ill-at-ease in a
company composed entirely of men. Besides Sadako could speak English
so well; it was so convenient that she should come; and under her
mother's care her morals would not be contaminated by the propinquity
of _geisha_. So Mr. Fujinami gave in so far as concerned his own wife
and daughter.

Shidzuyé San, as befitted a matron of sober years, wore a plain black
kimono; but Sadako's dress was of pale mauve color, with a bronze sash
tied in an enormous bow. Her hair was parted on one side and caught
up in a bun behind - the latest _haikara_ fashion and a tribute to the
foreign guests. Hers was a graceful figure; but her expression
was spoiled by the blue-tinted spectacles which completely hid her

"Miss Sadako Fujinami, daughter of Mr. Fujinami Gentaro," said Ito.
"She has been University undergraduate, and she speaks English quite

Miss Sadako bowed three times. Then she said, "How do you do" in a
high unnatural voice.

The room was filling up with the little humming-bird women who had
been present at the entrance. They were handing cigarettes and
tea cups to the guests. They looked bright and pleasant; and they
interested Geoffrey.

"Are these ladies relatives of the Fujinami family?" he asked Ito.

"Oh, no, not at all," the lawyer gasped; "you have made great
mistake, Mr. Barrington. Japanese ladies all left at home, never go
to restaurant. These girls are no ladies, they're _geisha_ girls.
_Geisha_ girls very famous to foreign persons."

Geoffrey knew that he had made his first _faux pas_.

"Now," said Mr. Ito, "please step this way; we go upstairs to the
feast room."

The dining-room seemed larger still than the reception room. Down each
side of it were arranged two rows of red lacquer tables, each about
eighteen inches high and eighteen inches square. Mysterious little
dishes were placed on each side of these tables; the most conspicuous
was a flat reddish fish with a large eye, artistically served in a
rollicking attitude, which in itself was an invitation to eat.

The English guests were escorted to two seats at the extreme end of
the room, where two tables were laid in isolated glory. They were to
sit there like king and queen, with two rows of their subjects in long
aisles to the right and to the left of them.

The seats were cushions merely; but those placed for Geoffrey and
Asako were raised on low hassocks. After them the files of the
Fujinami streamed in and took up their appointed positions along
the sides of the room. They were followed by the _geisha_, each girl
carrying a little white china bottle shaped like a vegetable marrow,
and a tiny cup like the bath which hygienic old maids provide for
their canary birds.

"Japanese _saké_" said Sadako to her cousin, "you do not like?"

"Oh, yes, I do," replied Asako, who was intent on enjoying everything.
But on this occasion she had chosen the wrong answer; for real ladies
in Japan are not supposed to drink the warm rice wine.

The _geisha_ certainly looked most charming as they slowly advanced in
a kind of ritualistic procession. Their feet like little white mice,
the dragging skirts of their spotless kimonos, their exaggerated care
and precision, and their stiff conventional attitudes presented a
picture from a Satsuma vase. Their dresses were of all shades, black,
blue, purple, grey and mauve. The corner of the skirt folded back
above the instep revealed a glimpse of gaudy underwear provoking to
men's eyes, and displayed the intricate stenciled flower patterns,
which in the case of the younger women seemed to be catching hold of
the long sleeves and straying upwards. Little dancing girls,
thirteen and fourteen years old - the so-called _hangyoku_ or half
jewels - accompanied their elder sisters of the profession. They wore
very bright dresses just like the dolls; and their massive _coiffure_
was bedizened with silver spangles and elaborately artificial flowers.

"Oh!" gasped the admiring Asako, "I must get one of those _geisha_
girls to show me how to wear my kimonos properly; they do look smart."

"I do not think," answered Sadako. "These are vulgar women, bad style;
I will teach you the noble way."

But all the _geisha_ had a grave and dignified look, quite different
from the sprightly butterflies of musical comedy from whom Geoffrey
had accepted his knowledge of Japan.

They knelt down before the guests and poured a little of the _saké_
into the shallow saucer held out for their ministrations. Then they
folded their hands in their laps and appeared to slumber.

A sucking sound ran round the room as the first cup was drained. Then
a complete silence fell, broken only by the shuffle of the girls' feet
on the matting as they went to fetch more bottles.

Mr. Fujinami Gentaro spoke to the guests assembled, bidding them
commence their meal, and not to stand upon ceremony.

"It is like the one - two - three - go! at a race," thought Geoffrey.

All the guests were manipulating their chop-sticks. Geoffrey raised
his own pair. The two slender rods of wood were unparted at one end to
show that they had never been used. It was therefore necessary to pull
them in two. As he did so a tiny splinter of wood like a match fell
from between them.

Asako laughed.

"That is the toothpick," cousin Sadako explained. "We call such
chop-sticks _komochi-hashi_, chopstick with baby, because the
toothpick inside the chopstick like the baby inside the mother. Very
funny, I think."

There were two kinds of soup - excellent; there was cooked fish and
raw fish in red and white slices, chastely served with ice; there were
vegetables known and unknown, such as sweet potatoes, French beans,
lotus stems and bamboo shoots. These had to be eaten with the aid of
the chop-sticks - a difficult task when it came to cutting up the wing
of a chicken or balancing a soft poached egg.

The guests did not eat with gusto. They toyed with the food, sipping
wine all the time, smoking cigarettes and picking their teeth.

Geoffrey, according to his own description, was just getting his eye
in, when Mr. Fujinami Gentaro rose from his humble place at the far
end of the room. In a speech full of poetical quotations, which must
have cost his tame students considerable trouble in the composition,
he welcomed Asako Barrington, who, he said, had been restored to Japan
like a family jewel which has been lost and is found. He compared her
visit to the sudden flowering of an ancient tree. This did not seem
very complimentary; however, it referred not to the lady's age but
to the elder branch of the family which she represented. After many
apologies for the tastelessness of the food and the stupidity of the
entertainment, he proposed the health of Mr. and Mrs. Harrington,
which was drunk by the whole company standing.

Ito produced from his pocket a translation of this oration.

"Now please say a few words in reply," he directed.

Geoffrey, feeling acutely ridiculous, scrambled to his feet and
thanked everybody for giving his wife and himself such a jolly good
time. Ito translated.

"Now please command to drink health of the Fujinami family," said
the lawyer, consulting his _agenda_. So the health of Mr. and Mrs.
Fujinami Gentaro was drunk with relish by everybody, including the
lady and gentleman honoured.

"In this country," thought Geoffrey, "one gets the speechmaking over
before the dinner. Not a bad idea. It saves that nervous feeling which
spoils the appetite."

An old gentleman, with a restless jaw, tottered to his feet and
approached Geoffrey's table. He bowed twice before him, and held out a
claw-like hand.

"Mr. Fujinami Gennosuké, the father of Mr. Fujinami Gentaro,"
announced Ito. "He has retired from life. He wishes to drink wine with
you. Please wash your cup and give it to him."

There was a kind of finger-bowl standing in front of Geoffrey, which
he had imagined might be a spittoon. He was directed to rinse his
cup in this vessel, and to hand it to the old gentleman. Mr. Fujinami
Gennosuké received it in both hands as if it had been a sacrament. The
attendant _geisha_ poured out a little of the greenish liquid,
which was drunk with much hissing and sucking. Then followed another
obeisance; the cup was returned, and the old gentleman retired.

He was succeeded by Mr. Fujinami Gentaro himself, with whom the same
ceremony of the _saké_ drinking was repeated; and then all the family
passed by, one after another, each taking the cup and drinking. It was
like a visiting figure in the lancers' quadrille.

As each relative bent and bowed, Ito announced his name and quality.
These names seemed all alike, alike as their faces and as their
garments were. Geoffrey could only remember vaguely that he had been
introduced to a Member of Parliament, a gross man with a terrible
wen like an apple under his ear, and to two army officers, tall
clean-looking men, who pleased him more than the others. There were
several Government functionaries; but the majority were business men.
Geoffrey could only distinguish for certain his host and his host's

"They look just like two old vultures," he thought.

Then there was Mr. Fujinami Takeshi, the son of the host and the hope
of the family, a livid youth with a thin moustache and unhealthy marks
on his face like raspberries under the skin.

Still the _geisha_ kept bringing more and more food in a desultory way
quite unlike our system of fixed and regular courses. Still Ito kept
pressing Geoffrey to eat, while at the same time apologizing for the
quality of the food with exasperating repetition. Geoffrey had fallen
into the error of thinking that the fish and its accompanying dishes
which had been laid before him at first comprised the whole of the
repast. He had polished them off with gusto; and had then discovered
to his alarm that they were merely _hors d'oeuvres_. Nor did he
observe until too late how little the other guests were eating. There
was no discourtesy apparently in leaving the whole of a dish untasted,
or in merely picking at it from time to time. Rudeness consisted in
refusing any dish.

Plates of broiled meat and sandwiches arrived, bowls of soup, grilled
eels on skewers - that most famous of Tokyo delicacies; finally, the
inevitable rice with whose adhesive substance the Japanese epicure
fills up the final crannies in his well-lined stomach. It made its
appearance in a round drum-like tub of clean white wood, as big as
a bandbox, and bound round with shining brass. The girls served the
sticky grains into the china rice-bowl with a flat wooden ladle.

"Japanese people always take two bowls of rice at least," observed
Ito. "One bowl very unlucky; at the funeral we only eat one bowl."

This to Geoffrey was the _coup de grâce_. He had only managed to stuff
down his bowl through a desperate sense of duty.

"If I do have a second," he gasped, "it will be my own funeral."

But this joke did not run in the well-worn lines of Japanese humour.
Mr. Ito merely thought that the big Englishman, having drunk much
_saké_, was talking nonsense.

All the guests were beginning to circulate now; the quadrille was
becoming more and more elaborate. They were each calling on each
other and taking wine. The talk was becoming more animated. A few bold
spirits began to laugh and joke with the _geisha_. Some had laid aside
their cloaks; and some even had loosened their kimonos at the neck,
displaying hairy chests. The stiff symmetry of the dinner party
was quite broken up. The guests were scattered like rooks, bobbing,
scratching and pecking about on the yellow mats. The bright plumage of
the _geisha_ stood out against their sombre monotony.

Presently the _geisha_ began to dance at the far end of the room. Ten
of the little girls did their steps, a slow dance full of posturing
with coloured handkerchiefs. Three of the elder _geisha_ in plain grey
kimonos squatted behind the dancers, strumming on their _samisens_.
But there was very little music either in the instrument or in the
melody. The sound of the string's twang and the rattle of the bone
plectrum drowned the sweetness of the note. The result was a kind of
dry clatter or cackle which is ingenious, but not pleasing.

Reggie Forsyth used to say that there is no melody in Japanese music;
but that the rhythm is marvelous. It is a kind of elaborate ragtime
without any tune to it.

The guests did not pay any attention to the performance, nor did they
applaud when it was over.

Mr. Ito was consulting his _agenda_ paper and his gold watch.

"You will now drink with these gentlemen," he said. Geoffrey must have

"It is Japanese custom," he continued; "please step this way; I will
guide you."

Poor Geoffrey! it was his turn now to do the visiting figure, but
his head was buzzing with some thirty cups of _saké_ which he had
swallowed out of politeness, and with the unreality of the whole

"Can't do it," he protested; "drunk too much already."

"In Japan we say, 'When friends meet the _saké_ sellers laugh!'"
quoted the lawyer. "It is Japanese custom to drink together, and to
be happy. To be drunk in good company, it is no shame. Many of these
gentlemen will presently be drunk. But if you do not wish to drink
more, then just pretend to drink. You take the cup, see; you lift it
to your mouth, but you throw away the _saké_ into the basin when you
wash the cup. That is _geisha's_ trick when the boys try to make her
drunk, but she is too wise!"

Armed with this advice Geoffrey started on his round of visits,
first to his host and then to his host's father. The face of old Mr.
Fujinami Gennosuké was as red as beet-root, and his jaw was chewing
more vigorously than ever. Nothing, however, could have been more
perfect than his deportment in exchanging the cup with his guest. But
no sooner had Geoffrey turned away to pay another visit than he became
aware of a slight commotion. He glanced round and saw Mr. Fujinami,
senior, in a state of absolute collapse, being conducted out of the
room by two members of the family and a cluster of _geisha_.

"What has happened?" he asked in some alarm.

"It is nothing," said Ito; "old gentleman tipsy very quick."

Everybody now seemed to be smiling and happy. Geoffrey felt the curse
of his speechlessness. He was brimming over with good humour, and was
most anxious to please. The Japanese no longer appeared so grotesque
as they had on his arrival. He was sure that he would have much in
common with many of these men, who talked so good-naturedly among
themselves, until the chill of his approach fell upon them.

Besides Ito and Sadako Fujinami, the only person present who could
talk English at all fluently was that blotchy-faced individual, Mr.
Fujinami Takeshi. The young man was in a very hilarious state, and
had gathered around him a bevy of _geisha_ with whom he was cracking
jokes. From the nature of his gestures they must have been far from

"Please to sit down, my dear friend," he said to Geoffrey. "Do you
like _geisha_ girl?"

"I don't think they like me," said Geoffrey. "I'm too big."

"Oh, no," said the Japanese; "very big, very good. Japanese man
too small, no good at all. Why do all _geisha_ love _sumotori_
(professional wrestlers)? Because _sumotori_ very big; but this
English gentleman bigger than _sumotori_. So this girl love you, and
this girl, and this girl, and this very pretty girl, I don't know?"

He added a question in Japanese. The _geisha_ giggled, and hid her
face behind her sleeve.

"She say, she wish to try first. To try the cake, you eat some? Is
that right?"

He repeated his joke in Japanese. The girl wriggled with
embarrassment, and finally scuttled away across the room, while the
others laughed.

All the _geisha_ now hid their faces among much tittering.

Geoffrey was becoming harassed by this _badinage_; but he hated to
appear a prude, and said:

"I have got a wife, you know, Mr. Fujinami; she is keeping an eye on

"No matter, no matter," the young man answered, waving his hand to and
fro; "we all have wife; wife no matter in Japan."

At last Geoffrey got back to his throne at Asako's side. He was
wondering what would be the next move in the game when, to his relief
and surprise, Ito, after a glance at his watch, said suddenly:

"It is now time to go home. Please say good-bye to Mr. and Mrs.

A sudden dismissal, but none the less welcome.

The inner circle of the Fujinami had gathered round. They and the
_geisha_ escorted their guests to the rickshaws and helped them on
with their cloaks and boots. There was no pressing to remain; and as
Geoffrey passed the clock in the entrance hall he noticed that it
was just ten o'clock. Evidently the entertainment was run with strict
adherence to the time-table.

Some of the guests were too deep in _saké_ and flirtation to be
aware of the break-up; and the last vision granted to Geoffrey of the
M.P. - the fat man with the wen - was of a kind of Turkey Trot going
on in a corner of the room, and the thick arms of the legislator
disappearing up the lady's kimono sleeve.



_Iro wa nioedo
Chirinuru wo -
Woga yo tore zo
Tsune naran?
Ui no okuyama
Kyo koete,
Asaki yume miji
Ei mo sezu._

The colours are bright, but
The petals fall!
In this world of ours who
Shall remain forever?
To-day crossing
The high mountains of mutability,
We shall see no fleeting dreams,
Being inebriate no longer.

"_O hay[=o] gazaimas!_" (Respectfully early!)

Twitterings of maid-servants salute the lady of the house with the
conventional morning greeting. Mrs. Fujinami Shidzuyé replies in the
high, fluty, unnatural voice which is considered refined in her social

The servants glide into the room which she has just left, moving
noiselessly so as not to wake the master who is still sleeping. They
remove from his side the thick warm mattresses upon which his wife
has been lying, the hard wooden pillow like the block of history,
the white sheets and the heavy padded coverlet with sleeves like an
enormous kimono. They roil up all these _yagu_ (night implements),
fold them and put them away into an unsuspected cupboard in the
architecture of the veranda.

Mr. Fujinami Gentaro still snores.

After a while his wife returns. She is dressed for the morning in a
plain grey silk kimono with a broad olive-green _obi_ (sash). Her
hair is arranged in a formidable helmet-like _coiffure_ - all Japanese
matrons with their hair done properly bear a remote resemblance to
Pallas Athene and Britannia. This will need the attention of the

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 10 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24

Online LibraryJohn ParisKimono → online text (page 10 of 24)