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. 619-625

[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.]


Our intention was to stay at Mianoshita, and visit Hakone, a lovely mountain retreat, but the cold being intense there, we went on to Atami, a favourite watering-place of the Mikado's. In the tram-car, rugs were neatly spread over the seats by the conductor, which certainly added to the comfort. We were dropped at Odawara, where a crowd of villagers and coolies surrounded us, and tea, as a matter of course, was offered, whilst the men settled amongst themselves who was to draw us. At length we started, and went for eighteen miles up hill and down dale, now along the level of the sea-shore, then hundreds of feet above, through bamboo thickets and pine groves, in narrow Devonshire lanes between high banks covered with Osmundas and other ferns; then through beautiful woods of maple, beech, birch, and oak, over hills terraced from the shore up to the summits, and planted sometimes with orange trees, covered with millions of mandarins (one village was given up to packaging the oranges in barrels, the hoops being made of bamboo), and at others with rice, millet, buckwheat, tobacco. The views of the Vries island opposite, with its smoking volcano, the distant bays, the lovely mountains, the foliage-crowned hills, the deep chines between the hills, the villages clinging to the hill sides or nestling on the strand; palms, tamarisks, lepedestras, myrtles, camellias, all combined to form a picture worthy of the Corniche road, in some respects more lovely.

We rested for "chow" at a tea-house on the edge of a wooded cliff high above the sea. Delicious rice-cakes and large golden persimmons, with Japanese tea, made a charming lunch. Tea is offered in a miniature tea pot, and taken in tiny cups, without milk or sugar. It is of a pale golden colour, and tastes like fragrant flowers. The water is only poured over the leaves and immediately drunk--it never stands. It is a very delicate green tea, and largely appreciated in America.

Love of beauty for its own sake surprises one at every turn, in the artistic way they arrange the simplest dish of fruits or sweetmeats, or place a berried spray to adorn some village cart, showing an inborn refined taste. Europeans are naturally as much objects of curiosity to the natives as they are to us. In driving through a village, F----'s taking out his pocket-handkerchief was the signal for the whole school to come rushing after us. (The Japanese handkerchief consists of a folded paper.) At another place, my glove-button falling on the floor, a woman picked it up, and was most interested in watching the operation of fastening up six-buttoned gloves, and then in comparing my boots with her sandals. English hair-pins are a great curiosity to them, for theirs are long ornamental ones, more like bonnet-pins, and Miss O---- gave much amusement by showing her pills. Pills were quite a puzzle to them, and so Miss O---- had to put her hand to her head, and appear to be ailing until she had swallowed a pill, when she revived and became quite well and cheerful. At one of the temples I felt the priest gently fingering and stroking the steel beads at my mantle. We were lost in admiration of the costly treasures he had to show us, but he was absorbed in the passementerie; he did it so quietly and unobtrusively, that I could not help standing still to let him go on unobserved till he had satisfied his curiosity. There is absolutely no vulgarity about these people. It is true that women smoke, but they do it so daintily, whiffing at little bamboo tubes, that it does not strike one as unfeminine. Even among the lowest class there is no bad language or drunkenness. Some foreigners say that one gets very tired of the unalterable sweetness of the Japanese temper, and extremely irritated by their habit of never contradicting but always cheerfully assenting to one's remarks. So also some people complain of the weariness occasioned by the ever blue sky in the Riviera, and the constant sunshine!--and "some folks" are proverbially "hard to please."

The Japanese language is extremely difficult to learn; but its sound is very rich and musical. There is no imperative mood, and consequently no dictatorialness! And it is most remarkable that "a very large proportion of the best writings of the best age of Japanese literature was the work of women. [W. G. Aston] "Moses established the Hebrew, Alfred the Saxon, and Luther the German tongue in permanent form; but in Japan, mobile forms of speech crystallised into perennial beauty under the touch of woman's hand." [William Elliot Griffis. The Mikado's Empire]

The Japanese are such a noiseless people, there is "no strife in their streets," or clamour of tongue,--"sunny-hearted, droll, quaint, ludicrous, diverting, dainty, finniky mannikins," are terms which exactly describe them. They are absolutely charming, and the further one goes away from them, and the more sees of other nations, the more one's heart flies back to Japan and its dear people, so unlike any other country or people. They are always laughing, always good tempered. Nothing seems a trouble to them--the poorest coolie is on the qui vive, anticipating one's wants and striving to make one comfortable. Half-naked himself, streaming with perspiration and wet with rain, he stops to tuck his own little red blanket or fasten the coiled curtains more securely around his passenger, and then, untying the kerchief from his brows, mops his own face with a cheerful smile, gets into a fresh pair of rice sandals (holding up the shafts of the ricksha with his passenger the while he stoops), and off he spins like the wind.

"No idleness" is a characteristic of Japan. There a country-woman will carry three trusses of straw on her back, or as many bundles of faggots or charcoal sacks. Earth is carried about in mats, where we should use wheelbarrows. Very occasionally we met a horse or a bullock-cart. Cattle, sheep, and goats seem practically unknown. The peculiar grass cuts the mouths of the sheep. Horses we saw employed at Nikko for bringing down the copper-ore from the mines. This scarcity of animal labour was oddly illustrated to us at the Doshisha University. In a class on Political Economy a student was asked whether a farmer has any other capital besides iron stools for labour? He was fairly at a loss for some time, and when the Professor suggested, "Cows and horses," started as if an entirely new idea had struck him. It is curious to see the grain spread out on the roadway to dry. The people sift out the rice through their fingers, sometimes shake it to and fro in a mat or sieve, or hold it high over their heads, and let it drop down to a mat at their feet. Buckwheat is rubbed between the hands, the worker kneeling on a mat. Here a man pours the grain into a straw sack; there two or three girls are wielding heavy wood hammers, and pounding the grain; while, not far off, a man stands with a bamboo handle, to which two fans are attached, and while a girl pours the rice from a height above, he gently with his fan blows away the chaff. [Compare "Whose fan is in His hand."]

Rice-bran is used to stuff pillows and fill little bags with which to scour themselves. Loofahs procured from gourds are used for the same purpose. The number of loofahs is extraordinary. There is neither soap in Japan nor any word for it in the language! But it is difficult to convey any idea of their extreme cleanliness. Where we speak of pure air, they say "clean air." They do not paint their houses or boats, because they "prefer to keep the wood clean." The floors are rubbed daily with cloth wrung out of hot water, so that in time even the common deal wood takes a polish. In one hotel we noticed that long bags were hung on to the bath-taps, and were told "it was to keep the water clean!" The hands, nails, hair, teeth, of the poorest peasant who comes and stands beside one are scrupulously clean. There are stalls on which the chief article for sale is tooth-brushes, a stick, with fimbricated [fringed] ends, dipped in salt. The people's underclothing is chiefly of silk, and though it is objected that they lie down and sleep in their clothes, yet the practice is not uncleanly, for they bathe many times a day, immersing themselves in hottest water up to the necks in high wooden casks.

This hot bathing keeps off rheumatism, to which standing knee-deep in the wet rice-fields, renders the farmers liable; children for warmth in winter pop in and out of the hot baths whenever they feel cold, and the heat of the water prevents the sensibility to cold that bathing in warm induces; there is no fear of reaction or catching cold. At Atami it is amusing to see people of all ages sitting in the public baths, enjoying their gossip just as the old Romans, or even the English did at Bath half a century ago.

By the roadside the family tub may also be seen; the person of oldest age or highest honour goes in first, the rest of the family taking their turn. They dry themselves with wet towels. Women and girls are always dusting and sweeping their homes, as if they could not endure a speck of dirt. Even on the canal-boats, this was most noticeable, to see them, not content with the inside kept clean, washing the outside of their boats. A Japanese proverb says, "Hell is full of dirty housewives." Atami possesses a wonderful geyser, which breaks out with great regularity every four hours, its streams supply all the baths in the village. In olden days "the spring boiled out in the sea, and was a suffering to aquatic families." The geyser is enclosed in a large space by iron railings; at first there is nothing to see but steam issuing from the centre; birds are happily picking up the grains of salt around. Then a gentle noise begins, which quickly changes into a roar, this again becomes an awful infernal sound, as if the whole place were about to be blown up; the water rushes out, boiling fast and furious, steam rises up in volumes, and you think nothing short of an explosion will take place. Just as matters are at their worst, the geyser as suddenly subsides, and all is quiet. The steam is used for inhalations. All baths being of scalding water have to be cooled several degrees before one can venture in to bathe. It did strike us as slightly comical that in this village of baths, hot water should be brought to our room in tea-pots, but it was Japanese. We found in the best hotels one set of toilet ware [combs, mirrors, manicure sets] was considered ample for two people.

It was delicious to sit on the verandah, overlooking a terraced amphitheatre, like that of Alassio, and while listening to the splash of the Pacific waves below, the chirping of the cicalas [cicadas], and the deep tones of a temple gong, inhale the fragrant incense wafted on the evening breeze; seeing the buzzards hovering overhead, a palm tree and a lemon bush close beside us, and below on the stony beach seven venerable pines, and boats hauled up stern first. To the right the bay is terminated by a promontory. On its summit is a watch-tower, from which a watcher gazes into the clear deep waters below and signals to the fishermen of the approaching shoals. From that point we counted 117 fishing boats.

In the evening the "Amma's" plaintive piping notes were heard. "Ammas" are blind men who gain their living by massage. They carry a long stick and a little flute, and always go about after dark crying "Amma." In Yokohama we saw a woman in broad daylight groping her way with sightless eyeballs--a painful sight. But as there are an enormous number of blind in Japan, and the Japanese are very fond of being rubbed, a useful occupation is thus opened to these poor people, who perform massage in the most skillful way for about half a farthing. What a field of industry this might prove in England if the blind were trained to massage amongst the poor for a small sum! Their delicacy of touch is very great and their kneading from top to toe is said to be peculiarly invigorating. They massage downwards with their elbows, contrary to the received Western notion that it "Should be practised upwards, as downwards neutralises the good, the object being to help back the blood to the centre which lingers in the veins." Autres hommes, autres moeurs [other times, other customs] in this as in most other things.

At night the verandah was closed in by heavy wooden shutters which rolled back into their grooves with a great noise in the morning; this shut out all air. Although we had two window-doors and four windows to our rooms, there was no access to the open air. A watchman "Monban" walked round every hour rattling castanets, as a protection against fire and thieves; but also as the destroyer of sleep. To this one must accustom oneself, as the "Monban" is ubiquitous in the East. Atami is celebrated for its camphor-trees, the measure of one such is described as being "of about ten arm-fulls." It is also noted for paper made from the bark of the mulberry, and from another paper shrub. The mulberry furnishes leaves for silkworms, and in turn the silkworm cocoons are highly esteemed as manure for tennis lawns. Hair is also utilised for fertilising.

Paper is largely used in Japan; from the delicate rice paper windows through which the light gleams so prettily and softly in the evenings, to the writing-papers of every kind, oiled paper for waterproof coats, aprons, hoods, curtains, umbrellas, to fans, boxes, cases, twine, and the splendid embossed leather wall-papers, which are so much valued for art-decoration in England.

The whitest paper is made from mulberry branches. The bark is boiled down and strained through a sieve, then mixed, and water gradually drawn off. The paper-like substance is then carefully spread out into sheets and pressed between boards, and laid out in the sun to harden and dry. It is impossible to tear it against the grain; it makes very tough string. Japanese paper makes excellent plasters, bandages, tourniquets, cords, and towels, being wonderfully adhesive, absorbing, and healing. It is soft, tough, and easily becomes hard or pliable when wetted, and so it is valuable in the dressing of wounds. [William Elliot Griffis]

Proofread by LNL, Sept. 2023