The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Seeds of Stories from Other Countries

Volume 3, 1892/93, pgs. 529-540

[From the book "Clear Round!" by Elizabeth Anna Gordon, 1851-1925. Gordon was fascinated by the link between Christianity and Buddhism, and spent much of her life in Japan.]


The houses consist of four corner posts in a framework of wood, surmounted by a thatched roof. The rooms can be shut off at pleasure, or thrown into one large hall, simply by sliding along paper panels which serve for walls. When these are thick (as in the best houses) it is a very comfortable plan, and superior to our hinged doors. The floors are covered with mats, delightfully soft to tread upon, as they are laid over a deep later of straw and fit quite closely. The size of a room is reckoned by the number of mats it contains. In an alcove there is a slightly raised shelf, with one flower-vase; on the wall above, a single "kakemono" hangs; this is a long scroll, on which is sketched either a picture, poem, or proverb, such: "Buddha does not like you to be bad," or "Human eyes look down from Heaven; do nothing sinful," and is changed according to the season, dress and all being made to harmonise. Large thin square velvet cushions are laid on the ground, and every one goes down "in sections like a camel" (as an American remarked), first kneeling on their knees, then sitting back on their heels, which are crossed behind. At the door, the maidens, hands reaching to knees, bow low, touching the ground with their foreheads, before advancing with the "hibachi" (a brazier, or fire-box, filled with hot ashes), and placing it beside each guest. Over it we warm our hands, or light the elegant pipe-tube, of which never more than a whiff or two is taken. With the same ceremony, the several dishes of the repast are brought in and laid before each guest; while we eat, the maids kneel before us, anticipating every want. A paper napkin is provided, and also a piece of paper in which to wrap any sweetmeats for the children at home (or whatever one can't eat), and this is slipped into the pocket in the sleeve of the kimono. Two soups are served at intervals; a plate of raw and one of cooked fish, vegetables, pickles, bamboo, seaweed, soy--most picturesquely arranged; stewed eels and rice is the favorite dish of Japanese gourmets; the leg of a stuffed snipe poised in air above the other delicacies; and "saké"--a weak spirit made from rice--is served in tiny cups, oranges and persimmons concluded the banquet. We feel as if we were in the nursery playing at a make-believe dinner party. Instead of breakfast plates and dishes, lacquer-trays or boxes of every shape are used; and the porcelain cups hold just three bird-like sips of tea, or "saké." Everything looks so pretty, so dainty, ranged in a circle on the floor--for nothing is cleared away. When we rise we fear to stand up lest we should smash the fairy-like arrangement. Of the food, let me say, it was lovely to look at, but impossible to swallow! The chopsticks were not so unmanageable as might be supposed, but the lowly posture became something akin to torture before the banquet closed, and, in pity, chairs were produced for the foreign ladies, pieces of wood being nailed between the legs to prevent them from tearing the fine matting. The room looked out on to a miniature garden (as all the best rooms do) at the back, with stone lanterns, without which no Japanese garden is complete.

After dinner, singing and dancing girls came in to amuse us; the music was very weird, the singing still more odd, accompanying the twang-twang of a stringed "samisen." The "geishas," we think, ought to be imported to England to teach the "physical Culture" classes: it is useless to attempt to describe their graceful dancing, hardly moving from one spot; the way in which they manage their fans is quite wonderful, ever movement is so full of grace. A few days later we were presented with a Japanese newspaper containing an account of this party.

We visited the theatre twice. All the parts were taken by men, as it is not considered right for women to act; we saw the famous actor Danjiro, who is called "the Henry Irving of Japan." The play, being an historical one, was a living picture of the days of old Japan, illustrating the manner of Court life, the courtships, battles, &c. Very marvellous were the costumes, the rich brocades and gold embroideries being extremely costly. We were amused to see that, however angry the actors were, they were never surprised into springing to their feet with indignation as we should do, but remained calmly squatting on their heels. On remarking this to a Japanese, he said that it was the result of the teaching of Confucius, the Chinese philosopher, who advised people to "calm down when irritated--to sit down and think over it."

Madame --- showed me a quaint bit of carved ivory representing a man caught in a wedge. As he cried for help he consciously kept on hammering at the screw, and so made matters worse; the Japanese moral attached thereto being: "Don't tighten the screw"--i.e., don't aggravate your condition by impatience.

To return to the theatre. The people make quite a day of it; the play begins early in the morning and goes on until eleven o'clock at night, and continues for a week. The matted floor is on a gentle slope; no chairs, but the space is chequered out into spaces like sheep-pens, to hold four persons; on the dividing boards the attendants are constantly passing with "hibachi" and pipes, refreshment trays, boxes full of steaming rice, and teapots, with cups attached under the bamboo handles. Between acts, the children in the audience run about and play hide-and-seek under the curtain, at the imminent risk of setting the whole place on fire, for though made of flimsiest cotton, it is whisked to and from within an ace of the footlights. The supernumeraries are exceedingly funny. Clothed in black, they present nothing to the audience but a sight of their heels, and most deftly steal in amongst the actors and remove the scenes, whilst almost keeping invisible.

One scene represented a man in the condemned cell receiving a farewell visit from his wife and child. They were overwhelmed with grief, and gave vent to the strangest cries; sobs came out with slate-pencil-like grates through the back of the throat and nose. (When the Japs wish to be very civil and pleased, after every few words they suck in their breath with a peculiar low whistle, say "Hai, Hai!" and rub their knees up and down.) The tiny child could only wail out to "Papa" in a shrill treble voice, and wiping each eye alternately with the sleeves of its kimono--(I noticed this is the mode in Japan, to silently weep and wipe)--clutch hold of its father's kimono to prevent their being parted. The men in the audience were visibly affected, and frequently wiped their own eyes with paper handkerchiefs.

Another scene represented a mother who, with her little girl, had been turned out of doors and left to starve. A cruel man was seen roughly beating both with a broomstick, and felling them to the ground. A tight cord bound the mother to a tree, but the child was free, and it was very pretty to see her tender devotion in brushing off the snow-flakes as they fell, and trying to hold up an umbrella over her mother; being too small, she appeared to be quite distressed, but, a bright thought striking her, she ran into a house close by, and brought out a stool, on which she stood, looking quite triumphant at her success, and held up the shade until, overcome by fatigue, she fell faintly off her stool into the deep snow.

The snow-storm was very well done, square bits of torn paper being let fall from above. At each side of the stage sat the "chorus", or band, singing and playing, in a very pretty little box about the size of a Punch show. Danjiro rode onto the stage through the audience on a large white horse made of men. He mounted it on the right side.

The emperor's palace is surrounded by wide moats, the walls are made of enormous stones placed together without mortar. Fantastically twisted "pine trees of Japan" overhang the walls. Diminutive soldiers, both on horse and on foot, guard the entrance; they look exactly like tin soldiers, and the horses are so small they might also be toys.

The soldiers dress in a kind of Prussian uniform. They are a very brave, plucky set of men, but I read in Choya (a Japanese newspaper) that "one must eat beef and drink milk in order to make a strong body; vegetables, leaves, and salt are inefficient. The Japanese patriotism will not suffice for their weakness and small stature . . . The Western guns are too big and the American horses too large for Japanese soldiers. The (East) Indians, though fighting desperately and determined to die for their country, were forced to surrender to the English, who were strong enough in body to combat even with demons." One great reason for their small stature is that, owing to their being constantly carried, when babies, tucked on to an elder child's back, their lower limbs cannot develop, and the nerves and muscles shrink, so that although their bodies are long, their extremities are small, and their legs often badly bowed.

One wonders what spinal troubles this burden-bearing brings to the ever-patient, sweet-tempered little girls. As soon as they can walk alone, a doll is strapped to their back, and when a little bigger, a living baby mounts pick-a-back, and rides all day long. In a hospital garden I saw a little girl carrying a big doll on her back. The doctor said the little convalescent would not be content till it was strapped on. I noticed a child carrying another who could only have been the next in age younger, as the little one's legs hung almost down to the elder's heels. Another girl, knocked down in a crowd, could not get up under her burden, and when a gentleman raised her up the poor little creature's eyes were full of tears. When baby is restless, "Sissie" patiently moves from one foot to another, hushing by a movement from the waist, and when he feels sleepy he closes his eyes, and, laying his fat little cheek against her shoulder, takes a nap. Should the weather be cold, he is tucked inside her kimono, or a large square of wadded material is put on as a cape round the neck, a quilted pad tied on to the outside of his hand, and fastened by a ribbon between the fingers to serve as a glove. More often the mothers carry the tiniest baby; "grandpapa's" services are sometimes requisitioned, but seldom a father's or brother's. I rarely heard a baby cry, and never saw one with a "baby comforter," teething pad, "bottle," or any other such atrocity, in its mouth to suck; yet they seem perfectly happy and content, allowing their mother or sister to work around the house or field, while they cling on like young monkeys, and need no attention. The sisters run about gaily, playing battledore, ball, or other games; and when nursed, baby does not compel his mother to sit down, but he moves round and rides in front. The mother works in the field, and stands to scull the boat, with baby strapped on; and one wonders that his neck is not dislocated by her sudden, jerky movements. Their dear bright little brown eyes seem to take such intelligent interest in all that happens. To my mind a Jap baby, with its grave face and merry eyes, is the most kissable of beings. It is dressed in bright clothes, just the same shape as those of its parents. These clothes are made much too large, and, being of good durable material, last for years, the child grows into them, and come rain or shine, it has no cover on its little bald head, or parasol to shade it from the sun's fierce rays. This is said to be one great cause of the so-prevalent ophthalmic disease, and of the large number of blind throughout Japan. Certainly the quantity of cross-eyed, squinting people is remarkable. Modern fashion is introducing woollen birettas [hat with pointed corners], such as are worn in Italy; they are knitted in the gaudiest Berlin wools. On one I counted seven colours: yellow, peacock blue, rose, brown, scarlet, green and violet. Under the chin a large square coloured bib is worn. On Sunday's children's cheeks are rouged. Babies' heads are shaved in many patterns; three tufts of hair may be left, like those on a French poodle; perhaps a top-knot only, tied with coloured paper; a half-moon fringe of hair turned either to the back or front; a circular hole in the centre, and the hair drooping all around. It struck me that this later mode (being the most general, is probably the most popular) was perhaps taken from the beautiful Fujiyama, the beloved sacred mountain of the Japanese, for the snow lies upon it in exactly the same form.

Babies and little children have metal tickets attached to them in case of being lost. The older girls' and women's hair is arranged so elaborately that they can never do it themselves. One sees poor women coiffing each other, but the ladies have a hair dresser twice or thrice a week, and sleep on a lacquered wood pillow (an elegant edition of a Kaffir pillow), to prevent disarrangement. The fantastic bows of hair are quite stiff with a camellia oil cosmetique, and fastened with artistic pins, a sprig of flower fixed in daintiest style above. Many of the old married women have blackened teeth, which gives an extremely ugly appearance to the mouth; when they laugh it looks like a black, yawning chasm. Fortunately the custom is dying out. Nothing offends the Japanese more than to praise any of their old arts and habits, most of which are so intimately preferable to those of New Japan. If you wish to please them, go into raptures over a tall smoky chimney. No one looks more hideous than a Japanese arrayed in European attire; and yet in eight seconds you will notice as many different kinds of hats surmounting and spoiling the effect of their own charming costumes. The men are very fond of wearing billycock hats, wide-awakes, and deer-stalkers, Inverness coats over their kimonos, and a Turkish bath towel tied round the neck in place of a comforter. Parisian dresses make the ladies absolutely insignificant, whereas a lady in her own quiet dove- or puce-coloured kimono, tied up with the rich, beautiful, broad-bowed satin "obi" (sash), has a dignity all her own, and looks quite fascinating. We were not sorry to hear that the craze for European clothes is dying out a little, and that merchants at Nagoya, who three years ago (when the craze was at its height) laid in large stores from America, have been ruined owing to the decreasing demand, leaving the stock on their hands. Personally we thought that European ladies might do worse than adopt the simple, comfortable, durable, and most artistic dress of the Japanese. (We commend the idea to the Dress Reform Society.)

On a wet day, the yellow, oiled, or varnished paper umbrellas give quite a cheerful aspect to the landscape, as if the sun were shining; they are very large and circular, and have the effect of a golden auriole round the had. Fans are carried as sun-shades, and I saw a man driving in a jin-ricksha holing up his pot-hat between himself and the sun, his own head being bare!

Very early hours are kept in Japan. The Emperor gives audience from 7 A.M. It was lately proposed that Parliament should meet in the morning. At the hotels, one can always obtain breakfast from 7 o'clock without ordering it beforehand-- a most convenient arrangement for travellers. One morning, when breakfasting, we were asked to come at once and see the Empress pass to open the Charity Hospital Bazaar at 9:30. We had to dismount from our jin-rickshas, and an officer requested that when the cortege came in sight we should put down our umbrellas. It was a very quiet affair; the Imperial landau was not half as grand as many an English nobleman's coach. The Empress [Empress Shôken] was in European dress, and is a pretty little woman. She takes the warmest interest in her subjects' welfare; visits the school and hospitals, and presides over the Red Cross Association. The funds from this bazaar were, by her request, applied to the earthquake fund, instead of to the charity hospital, which she herself founded.

The ladies who held stalls belonged to the haute noblesse. A few years ago this would not have been permitted, for merchants ("heimi") were looked down upon as being of the same class as farmers, and beneath the doctors, artists, or workers in cloisonne. Some dear little children were buying toys; the girls wore pretty bright kimonos coming down to their heels, and were attended by their nurses; and a tiny brother, in an Inverness coat and French cadet's gold braided cap, looked a perfect little fright.

After this we drove to see the Shiba [Pronounced Siba: h is silent] temples, the burial-places of the ancient Shoguns, or generals. They are situated in beautiful groves of cedar trees, called Cryptomeria, and the sort of green twilight in these woods is very lovely. There are also camellias growing as tall as birches, and of similar graceful appearance; their flowers are both pink and white, and resemble wild roses. The temples are very massive structures, with immensely large wooden roofs, the same form as the primitive Japanese hut, only enlarged. Even the palaces follow the same pattern. Within are floors of red and black lacquer, polished as a mirror, exquisitely fine soft matting, golden pillars, bronze tables, and vases and ornaments of priceless worth; but no altar or idol is to be seen. In these temples the deceased great men are adored, for the Japanese are hero as well as ancestor worshippers; e.g., the man who reclaimed the land from the sea and made the harbour of Hiogo is worshipped as a saint.

From here we went into the Shiba Park Bazaar (Kankobar), where every sort of toy and necessary of Japanese daily life can be bought. These kankobars are made like "a maze", and one wanders endlessly through the labyrinth of books, porcelain, toys, clothes, household utensils, pictures, screens, &c., but finds no egress except by continuing right on to the end. There is a good bazaar at Ueno Park, and others at Yokohama and Nagasaki, and they are always worth visiting; the goods being offered at "fixed prices," one is saved all troublesome bargaining in an unknown tongue. Every tradesman and school child has a "soroban" (a frame of beads such as we use in infant-schools [abacus]), which is their ready-reckoner. The Japanese count up to ten, and ten say ten-one, ten-two, up to twenty, which is two-tens, two-tens-one, &c. To us this sounds slightly confusing. They have no idea of reckoning by their fingers; in France or Italy a peasant will instantly put up so many fingers to tell one the price, but only once could we make a Japanese understand this mode of counting.

We next went to a Shinto (pronounced Sinto) temple. It contained an immense circular looking-glass, and a chair in front, where the worshipper sits and contemplates himself, and reviews his life. It is said to be a reminder that his heart is as visible to the god as his face is to himself in the mirror. Over the entry was a rope with straw tassels and strips of paper, representing cloth offerings, to keep out evil spirits. These ropes are put before all houses at the New Year. The entrance is through an immense archway of three wooden beams, called torii, in appearance like a double cross. It was the perch for the sacred fowls, who in olden days used to give notice of the dawn by crowing.

      "This is the cock that crowed in the morn,
      And waked the priest all shaven and shorn."

Others say it means "to pass through." The word is certainly not unlike our "door" and the German "thur," and I could never see one without thinking of those words of the Christ: "I am the door." Close by the torii stands the mitarashi, a large tank of water protected by a roof. Here the worshipper washes his hands and rinses his mouth before praying, and hangs up a blue towel, with his name and address inscribed, as an offering, if he is a pilgrim. Prayer is not accepted from a dirty worshipper. This reminds one of the Greek "lustrations," of the laver at the door of the Jewish Tabernacle, and of the font in Christian churches. There are two enclosed fences, which again resemble the Tabernacle, and the wall mentioned in the parables of the Good Shepherd. [In Scotland there is a custom called "fencing the table," observed on Communion Sundays, &c.] Then there is an immense coffer for alms, measuring four feet wide by four feet deep, standing at the foot of the stairs which ascend to the temple.

It was touching to see a very poor man and woman each throw in a copper coin (ten of which make a cent, equal to our halfpenny) reverently close their eyes, clap their hands, then fold them in prayer for a few minutes--while they "stood afar off"--and then walked away. We thought of the publican commended by our Lord, who did not dare to lift his eyes up to heaven, but "went down to his house justified"; and of that woman who, casting her "two mites into the treasury," "cast in more than they all."

Near Kamakura we saw a hill surmounted with shrines, with flag-staffs, growing taller and taller; the flags are paper stripes inscribed with prayers, &c. The temples, too, are usually approached by long flights of steps, like Solomon's temple or Jacob's ladder. I remember Mrs. Booth (of the Salvation Army) telling a congregation about a poor, ignorant countryman, who being very anxious about his soul's condition, climbed a steep hill, and having heaped up a pile of stones, stood upon it, and stretching himself to his full height, cried at the top of his voice: "O God, hear me!" The speaker observed that, though we might smile at the man's ignorance in thinking he could thus get nearer to God, God himself has said it is the heart that He looks at. How often in England and the Continent one sees churches perched on hill-tops. Many Japanese temples are built amid magnificent pine groves. Are not our Gothic cathedral aisles a copy of the German forests wherein our ancestors worshipped God? And I cannot help thinking there is some far-away connection, some dim memory, of that evergreen tree of life which was lost in Eden, but is restored to man in the last verses of the Revelation.

The Sintoists, being Nature worshippers, have many gods. They deify the elements--fire, air, water, trees, stones; the fisherfolk pray to the North Star, as those at Naples do to Mary, Star of the Sea. (By the way, there is a similar church at Hastings used by the fishers.)

Their principle goddess is the sun, from whom the Mikado is descended. The sun is the symbol of light fighting with darkness; health versus corruption; and a promise was made to the Jews that the "Sun of Righteousness should arise with healing in His winds." When He came he said, "I AM the Light of Life." So that in the twilight we feel these souls are groping and feeling after God; and that those myths are memories of the promises once given to mankind, on which the dust and forgetfulness of centuries have gathered:

      "An infant crying in the night,
      An infant crying for the Light,
      And with no language but a cry."

Think we that the Father of Spirits does not hear? Dr. George Macdonald has beautifully said: "You know it takes a long time for a child to know its mother. It takes everything as a matter of course, till suddenly one day it lifts up its eyes and knows that a Face is looking at it." Long before the Pentateuch was written, Job, the Arabian patriarch, said: "Though worms destroy my body, yet in my flesh shall I see God, whom I shall see for myself, and not a stranger."

"Yea, mine own God is He." [Psalm xlii., Scotch version.]

We believe that

                    "In all ages
      Every human heart is human.
      In even savage bosoms
      There are longings, yearnings, strivings,
      For the Good * they comprehend not,
      That the feeble hands and helpless,
      Groping blindly in the darkness,
      Touch God's tight hand in that darkness,
      And are lifted up and strengthened."--Longfellow.

* [An old Saxon word for God.]

Dr. S. said to us: "When I was a little boy on the southern shores of Japan, very early in the morning I used to take a little bamboo pail on the end of a pole down to the sea, and fill it full of salt water. Then I would turn to the rising sun and say a prayer, and, muttering prayers all the way home, I would sprinkle the salt water in the house to keep off evil spirits. In towns they sprinkle salt instead."

He also informed us that Japanese children look out for the hare in the moon standing on his little hind legs, and stirring Japanese rice-cakes. We had great fun in looking for the hare in the great golden moon which shone down into Mikado's moat, and saw him distinctly; but our friend said it was very curious he could always see the hare when he was in Japan, but hen he was in America somehow it was the man in the moon!

The Indians have this funny thought about it: Little Hiawatha

      "Saw the moon rise from the water,
      Rippling, rounding from the water,
      Saw the flecks and shadows on it,
      Whispered, 'What is that, Nokomis?'
      And the good Nokomis answered:
      'Once a warrior, very angry,
      Seized his grandmother, and threw her
      Up into the sky at midnight;
      Right against the moon he threw her;
      'Tis her body that you see there."

In the Uemo Museum we saw Mikado's throne. It is like an immense four-post bedstead; the platform is covered with matting, and on a pile of cushions in the centre Mikado sat. Blinds of fine bamboo were drawn closely down on the four sides, and when rolled up disclosed the monarch to his prostrate courtiers. We can imagine what a halo of mystery enveloped him in the old days, when he was regarded as too holy to be seen by mortal eyes, and his name is even now uttered with bated breath. Up to the year A.D. 3 his devoted retainers used to be buried alive in a ring round his grave, to avoid being separated from their loved master, and in order that he might be well served in the other world. But this custom became so cruel that on the death of an empress the emperor called together the potters from near Kioto, and consulted with them how it could be abolished. A number of extraordinary shaped horses and men were made in clay, and henceforth these images were placed in a circle, standing around the grave, instead.

It is interesting to find Herodotus describing the same custom amongst the Scythians. He said that a year after the king had been buried with his cup-bearer, cook, groom, page, courtier, horses, firstlings of every thing, and golden goblets, they killed fifty of his best servants and fifty finest horses, and mounting the servants upon the horses, they placed them round the monument. Another strange custom Herodotus mentioned as prevailing amongst all the nomads, or wandering tribes, in Africa; they buried the dead in sitting posture. To this day the Japanese place their dead, seated, with their hands clasping their knees, in a kind of box, and carry it slung between two bearers to the crematorium.

(To be continued.)

Proofread by LNL, Sept. 2023