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. 779-785

[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.]


Once upon a time there was a poor boy whose widowed mother fell ill and could not eat. She longed for a dish of tender bamboo-shoots, and felt, if only she had some, she would grow well and strong. But it was the middle of winter, the trees were leafless, and snow covered the ground. The affectionate boy was in great distress, for how could he find young shoots in the depth of winter? But he determined to try, and wandered about till he came to a bamboo-grove, close to an ancient temple. He stretched himself on the frozen ground, and throwing his arms round the shining bamboo stems, wept bitterly. His warm, loving tears moistened the wintry frost-bound earth, loosened the soil around the roots, when, lo! The tender little bamboo-shoots appeared; and the lad went home and cooked the dainty for the invalid, who got quite well; and ever since, as a reward for the filial devotion of Mang Tsung, the bamboos shoot in winter, instead of waiting for the bright spring days as heretofore.

One can hardly credit that the graceful willowy bamboo furnishes so much more than the forest-giants; but its uses are innumerable. We noticed scaffolding, walking-sticks, umbrella frames, kitchen utensils, fishing-rods, water-pipes, balustrades, sugar-tongs, tea-caddies, masts, rowing-poles, furniture, broom-handles, spades, rakes, picture-frames, harness, ladders, vases, pickles--the list is endless.

A charming story is related of Nijima, the Japanese educationalist. When he was a little boy, his father, who was very strict, whipped him severely on his hand. This made the boy very angry; he sulked and would not speak. In a day or two, his father called Nijima into the garden, and pointing to a delicate bamboo-plant, recited a poem:

       "I do not strike in anger,
       Snow on the sasa."

Meaning that, as snow bends and almost breaks the fragile sasa, we must tap it gently, so that it may rise again. This touched the child, knowing his father's love for him, and he ceased sulking.

Children are trained to implicit obedience and reverence towards their parents; and the extreme charm of the people is said to be inherited through countless generations of obedient docile wives and children.

They have a proverb that "The lamb drinks its milk kneeling." Which inculates lowly gratitude to the mother.

They are very gently trained, because corporal punishment is not approved, though if a child is very unmanageable sometimes the "moxa" has to be resorted to--i.e., touching them with a bit of burnt stick.

They are brought up in the company of their mothers. A Japanese who had been in the United States of America, remarked to me that "parents do not send their children away from them into nurseries as you English and Americans do." Parents act much upon good Bishop Fraser's maxim: "The reverence that is due to a little child." Owing to their paper screens, the children are never far out of sight or hearing. Hence they cannot be noisy. The servants speak to children with deference, and treat them with great courtesy and respect, addressing them by their proper title, and consequently the little ones are very polite to them. Younger children have always to submit themselves and give place to the elder (which is also the teaching of St. Paul), the little ones address the eldest as "Ane San"--elder sister.

Japanese girls are strictly brought up in "etiquette," of which the following are some points. They are taught how to behave generally, and in particular how to close and open the sliding doors and paper walls; how to make, pour out, and drink tea (this is called the "Cha no yu"--or tea ceremony); how to fan themselves; how to waft out insects with their fans; how to carry themselves, the head bent forward in token of deference and humility; and how to walk, the toes turned in so as nearly to meet, and taking very short, tottering steps. It is charming to see the little ones at the temples being taught by their mothers to clap their hands and say their prayers. At Asakusa-Kwannon, which is the favourite Buddhist temple in Tokyo, there are scores of children, evidently quite at home in the sacred precincts.

Within, there is an image of the god Binzuru. As the "friend of little children," he wears a bib, and his features are almost worn away, because those who are in any trouble or suffering come and rub him on the place where they feel the pain, and, after rubbing their own pained spot, go away feeling better. Do you not think of these words, "There came unto Him lame, blind, dumb, and many others, and as many as touched were made perfectly whole?" I recollect a little child bringing an evergreen leaf to lay on a mother's breaking heart "to make it well." Binzuru is the "helper of the friendless," and helps teething babies through their troubles.

The most pathetic shrine is that of a kind-looking god, "Jizo-do," who sits surrounded by images of children. When a child dies, the parents bring its image to be under the god's protection, and to sit ever in his presence ("Suffer little children to come unto Me," said the Good Shepherd). Mrs. A described to us a temple she had visited where mothers bring the tiny shoes, kimonos, bibs, dolls, and toys of the little ones when they are called away, and hang them around the altar, and the priest prays that "the children may be made happy, and have pretty toys where they are gone to stay with God." ("In Thy presence is fulness of joy; at Thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.") Not long before, an American mother had told us with bitter tears about the darling boy she was mourning. Thinking it a recent grief, we asked how long ago? She replied: "Six years ago--but it seems to me just one long day. I was so much to him, and he to me. I wonder always how he can do without me there?" And we felt that the mother-heart is the same in all the world. A baby girl on our ship was going to meet the father she had not seen since infancy. She wondered many things in her childish way, and wound up so simply and trustfully, "I know he'll be kind to me!" And so it will be in the home above!

Speaking of offerings, there is a beautiful legend about a poor woman who cut off her hair and sold it in order to present a lamp to a certain temple. (Lamps typify the glorious brightness of Amida) A very wealthy man gave 10,000 lamps, but a gust of wind blew them all out, and the woman's single lamp shone on with ever-increasing brilliancy. So henceforth the largest lamp in that temple is called "the Poor Woman's Single Lamp."

We heard a touching tale from an Englishman who fell ill, and was nursed with great devotion by a Japanese mother and daughter. He became dangerously ill, and the younger woman disappeared for two or three days. When she returned he learned that she had undertaken a pilgrimage to some mountain and presented offerings on his behalf. Now she was rejoicing in the assurance that he would recover. The patient laughed at the idea of prayer to the heathen idols doing him any good; but with tearful eyes she begged him not to scoff at her gods--it hurt her. Need I add that the prayers of the little Japanese were answered, and the Englishman did recover. And is there not a charming resemblance in this story to that of Naaman the Syrian, and the little captive maid from Israel? The children pray to their gods when they have colds or other ailments. A Christian, who had been brought up in Sinto-ism, told me that, as a child of eight, she used to pray to the God of Learning to help her with her writing (which being in Chinese characters is exceedingly difficult). Her elder sister would take her to the temple, assuring her that her prayers would be answered: "After that," she added, "I used to get up early and practise hard; the result was I soon learned to write."

At a large temple in Kioto, we saw two enormous coils of black rope which had been used to raise the heavy beams. The black was intertwined with strands of silver white. Can you guess of what these ropes were made? Love-offerings of the raven-black tresses of Japanese men and women's hair, who were too poor to give aught else. Do you wonder that our thoughts flew back eighteen hundred years to that Mary, who anointed the Lord's feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head; and that His voice sounded down the ages: "Her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much"? On a hill behind Kioto, two earthen images of warriors are buried, and tradition says that when the city is attacked these Shoguns (generals) will come to life, and protect it. We trace the same ideas, in the popular faith in the return to life for the salvation of their country of Alfred the Great in England; Charlemagne in France; Frederic Barbarossa in Germany.

On the Feast of the Dead, when the spirits are supposed to return to earth for three days, lanterns are hung before every house, where any one died in the past year, and tapers and food are set before every household shrine. On the last night the cemeteries on the hills, the city and river are illuminated. These lights are to guide the souls back to the spirit-world. The Red Indians also believe that:

       "Four days is the spirit's journey
       To the land of ghosts and shadows;
       Four its lonely night encampments,
       Four times must their fires be lighted,
       That the soul upon its journey,
       May not lack the cheerful firelight,
       May not grope about in darkness."

Long ago I saw a tiny child leave the room, and silently bring back a biscuit to lay in the baby's coffin.

Christians celebrate the Festivals of All Souls and All Saints. Hallowe'en is still kept in Scotland, though not religiously. In Italian cemeteries on the evening of All Souls' day, lights are placed round every grave: enormous painted candles at the marble tombs of the rich, and little flickering rushlights trace out the grassy graves of the nameless poor.

During our travels we read two beautiful stories of disinterestedness among the 'ricksha coolies in the daily journals.

A great fire had taken place at Kobé. It broke out in a curio-store, and the merchant jumped from the window, having first thrown down his clothes. The fire, smoke, and shock rendered him senseless, and he was picked up by some coolies, and carried into a house. When he recovered, he found that they had brought the coat and trousers which he had thrown down, but no waistcoat, and on making his loss known, a coolie returned to the ruined house and found the waistcoat, which he brought safely to Mr. D----, notwithstanding that a gold watch and chain were hanging from the pocket. Mr. D----stated that "none of the men who rescued him from his perilous position under the wall of the burning house, has made any application to him for reward, not has he seen any of them to his knowledge, since the fire."

This was at Shanghai: a 'ricksha coolie had an English master, who, through misfortune and ill-health, became a pauper. The coolie stuck to him devotedly--worked without wages, and shared his own poor lodging, and the meagre earnings he managed to pick up on the streets with his poor master. When death came, he went to Mr.----'s friends and tried to get other English to take pity before it was too late. For seven months he had housed the unhappy Englishman, who was sick and starved, and died an outcast in a garret. The verdict was, "Death from Starvation," and a collection was made for the coolie, whose conduct was not surpassed by that of the Good Samaritan.

The most fascinating sight to me in all Japan was the Kindergarten in Kobé. It was started by an American lady under great difficulties, for she had to educate her own teachers. For three months it was very uphill work; but after two years' training, no less than ten Japanese teachers graduated and dispersed to other schools, and another ten are being trained. Parents value the work so highly that they gave the school the name "Shoei Yochien"--i.e., "The Glory Child-Garden." Some who are bitterly opposed to Christianity, send their children on account of the valuable training. Little ones succeed the elder brothers and sisters as they leave the glory-school; and the mothers spend whole mornings watching their children's progress.

When we entered, sixty of these droll wee mannikins, arrayed in kimonos (dressing-gowns) down to their heels, were marching to the spirited tunes of "Yankee Doodle" and "The Bogie Man," played on the American organ. The teachers, also in Japanese costume, led the march backwards, facing their pupils. To see them drilling was perfectly entrancing. Such quaint, little, old-world, painstaking oddities; clapping their hands, bowing to the ground with utmost gravity--putting their whole souls into it. Their books were filled with exquisitely cut or folded designs of paper circles, triangles, ships, & c. We saw silk wound from their own silk-worms, and a large cupboard filled with dolls, their wardrobes and bedding--the delight of a wet day.

At luncheon they gravely sat round the low tables on tiny chairs, shut their eyes during grace, and then each child took out of a neat knitted bag a lacquer box, containing several other boxes, and a cup. In these were rice, scrambled eggs, pickles, fish, & c. A teapot was provided for all. It was wonderful to see these little folks fingering their chop-sticks so cleverly. After lunch, they told us their names, but I can only give you the translations. Mousko is Japanese for a little boy; the little girls are Mousmes: the word san affixed is equivalent to Mister. Even the babies are Baby San, or, the honourable baby. Mousko-san is Mr. little boy.

Girl's Names: Perfume, Silk Umbrella; Arrow-island; Chrysanthemum; Prune. The "dearest youngster in the school" is "In the Bamboo."

Boy's Names: High Tree; Mountain; Wisteria; Long-tail Tiger; Middle of the Field; Before the River; Three Valleys. The "pickle of the party" is Mr. Flatfield.

Miss Howe said they are such affectionate, lovable little souls, and the work is the delight of her heart. We told her that we had never seen any Japanese children quarrelling or fighting, and she said, "They very rarely do; but they are mischievous little snipes, and have much the same faults as other children." They do not understand kissing or shaking hands. There is no word for "kiss" in Japanese, and when the New Testament was translated, the learned men did not know what to do; for the word used for kissing (only tiny babies are kissed) is, literally, "licking"--the same term as for a cow licking her calf, or a cat her kittens! At last, they hit upon a word, which means "To apply the mouth." Chinese mothers smell their babies! Children bow to their parents, who, in turn rub their heads.

Miss Howe translated Froebel's Mutter and Kose Lieder into Japanese. She was enchanted to receive some Parents' Reviews, Mothers in Council, and Home Education. All these teachings will be warmly appreciated by the child-loving Japanese, who so value Froebel's ideas, that there are no less than fifty Kindergartens in Japan, chiefly under Government auspices.

In the Middle Ages there lived a little boy called Enko Daishi, whose teacher, recognising the dormant possibilities in his character, sent him up to the prior of a monastery with a letter containing only ten words: "I send you an image of the great sage Monju." On reading it the priest inquired for the image, and was astonished when the child appeared before him. But the boy made such great progress in his studies, that in a year's time he was admitted into the priesthood, and eventually became a great saint.

Such is a Japanese translation of the Divine command: "Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones."

Two of Buddha's beautiful sayings are worth recording; "Our parents are very divine;" and "The house of Brahma (i.e., God) is where there are obedient children."

Proofread by LNL, Oct. 2023