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September 25 , 2009

Our Little Japanese Cousin (Illustrated)


Lotus Blossom is the dearest little girl in the world. I beg your pardon—I mean in the Eastern world, for she lives far away across the Pacific, on one of the beautiful islands of Japan.

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When the word Germany comes to our minds, we think at once of ruined castles, fairies, music, and soldiers. Why is it?First, as to the castles. Here and there along the banks of the River Rhine, as well as elsewhere throughout the country, the traveller is constantly finding himself near some massive stone ruin. It seems ever ready to tell…

Lotus Blossom is very pretty. She has a round face, with a clear, yellow skin, and her teeth are like little pearls. Her black hair is cut square across the forehead and braided behind. It is never done up in curl-papers or twisted over a hot iron; the little girl's mamma would think that very untidy.

Lotus Blossom does not smile very often, yet she is always happy. She does not remember crying once in her life. Why should[10] she cry? Papa and mamma are always kind and ready to play with her. She is never sent to bed alone in the dark, for she goes to sleep, and gets up in the morning when her parents do. She does not play so hard as to get tired out and cross with everybody. She takes everything quietly, just as the big folks do, and is never in a hurry. Her playmates do not say unkind words to make her sad, for the children of Japan are taught to be polite above everything else. Why, I have heard that once upon a time one little yellow boy so far forgot himself as to call a lady bad names. His parents were terribly shocked. They felt that they had been disgraced, and at once sent for a policeman to go to the lady's house and ask for their child's pardon. As for him! well, he was severely punished in a way you will hear about later on in my story.

[children feeding birds]

Besides all these things which help to make[11] Lotus Blossom happy, she is dressed comfortably. Tight, stiff shoes could never be thought of for a minute. She wears white stockings made of cloth, with a separate place in each one for the big toe. In fact, they resemble long mittens. That is all Lotus Blossom wears on her feet in the house; but when she goes out-doors she has pretty sandals, if the walking is good. These sandals have straps, which are fastened on the foot between the big toe and around the ankle. If the ground is muddy or covered with snow, Lotus Blossom puts on her clogs. They are queer things, raised high on strips of wood. Of course one can't walk very fast on such clumsy affairs, but the Japanese dislike getting their feet wet as much as kittens do, and would wear anything to prevent such a mishap. But if Lotus Blossom stops at a house or store while she is out walking, she is polite enough to take off her clogs or sandals before[12] going inside. That is one reason why every building can be kept so clean.

The little Japanese girl's clothes are pretty as well as comfortable. It is not possible for pins to prick her tender flesh, because they are never used about her dress. In summer she wears a silk or linen garment made very much like your papa's dressing-gown, except that it has immense sleeves. Beautiful scarlet flowers are embroidered all over it, and a wide sash is wound around her waist and tied in a big, flat bow behind. She is very fond of red, so she has a bow of red crape in her hair, and a small red bag is fastened to her belt in front. What do you suppose she carries in the bag? Paper handkerchiefs! Not linen ones like yours, which are washed when they get soiled, but rather of soft, pretty paper. As soon as each one is used it is thrown away. Don't you think that is a very nice and cleanly custom? Indeed, there are many things about[13] the Japanese which we might copy with profit, for they are the cleanest people in the world. Perhaps another reason why our little cousin is so happy is because she is always clean.

Lotus Blossom carries another bag at her belt, filled with amulets. These are charms to keep away any evil spirits that might do her harm. In the bag with the charms, there is a brass plate, which tells her name and where she lives. So if she should get lost, her mother need not worry, for she will be brought safely home without loss of time. But what can be the use of such big sleeves? When her mamma cut them, she made them long enough to nearly reach the floor. Then they were doubled up inside and fastened in front so that they could serve as pockets. How you would laugh to see Lotus Blossom and her brother tuck away their playthings in their big sleeves when their mother calls them away to do something for her! It is[14] enough to make an American boy's heart fill with envy. He may boast of six pockets, but what of that? They could all be filled and stowed away in one of Lotus Blossom's sleeves, and room would be still left.

The little girl's life is like a long playtime. In the first place, she lives in a sort of play-house. There is nothing to get out of order; no chairs in the way, no table-scarfs to pull down, no ink-wells to tip over. There is only one big room in the house, but there are many beautiful paper screens, so her mamma can divide the house just as she pleases by moving the screens about. If company should arrive suddenly, there need be no question whether there is a guest-room or not. One can be made with screens in a moment. Even the front of the house is made of screens, which can be closed at night, and folded away in the morning to open up the whole house to the fresh air and sunshine.[15] There are no carpets on the floors, but instead of these there are pretty mats made of rushes. They are exactly alike in size, and are shaken every morning. There are no chairs, for Lotus Blossom's family sit on the mats or on cushions on the floor. They cannot lean against the walls either, for remember, there are no walls! And if they should lean against the screens they would tumble over.

The only tables are six inches high. They are pretty and delicate, and are highly lacquered. When Lotus Blossom has nothing else to do, she likes to look at the pictures on these little stands. But where are the stoves? How do the people keep warm in the cold winter days? And where is all the cooking done? In the picture do you see a little box with smoke rising from it? It is lined with metal, and charcoal is burned in it. All the food is prepared over these little fire-boxes. If any one is cold, he[16] has only to get a fire-box, light some charcoal, and sit down beside it. And when Lotus Blossom goes to breakfast, she has a fire-box beside the lacquered table, so that water for her tea can be kept hot.

Tea! you say. That little girl, nine years old, drinking tea? Yes, we have to admit that the Japanese child drinks tea at a very early age; and with no milk or sugar, either. But then the cups are so tiny they do not hold much. They are no bigger than those in a doll's china set. How quickly the little tea-table is set at meal times. Each member of the family has one all to himself. There is no table-cloth, no knife, or fork, or spoon; instead of these one sees a pair of chop-sticks, a small cup and saucer, and a plate from which he eats the steaming rice and the minced fish. But suppose that the tea or rice should be spilled on the beautiful table? Please don't imagine such a thing. Japanese[17] children are too carefully trained by their kind mammas to be so careless. They handle their chop-sticks so daintily that no grain of rice nor bit of fish falls as they lift the food to their pretty mouths.

Where does our little Japanese cousin sleep in this funny house? There are no bedsteads, or mattresses, or blankets, or sheets. When bedtime comes, her papa and mamma move the screens around so as to shut themselves off from the rest of the house. Then they go to a cupboard and take down some wadded quilts and queer wooden blocks, whose tops are slightly curved. A quilt is spread on the floor, and a wooden block serves as a pillow. Some paper is laid on it so that it may be kept clean. And now, you think, Lotus Blossom may get into her bed after she has undressed and put on her night-dress. Not so, however. She must bathe in a tub of such hot water that it would turn your body[18] very red, if you were only to hop in and out again. The whole family bathe in the same tub of water, one after the other, and it is kept hot by a tube which runs to a fire-box. The little girl puts on her day-dress after her bath is finished, and, lying down on the quilt, she rests her head on the hard pillow. Mamma covers her with another quilt, and she is soon sound asleep.

When Lotus Blossom was two years old her brother Toyo was born. How the family rejoiced at having a little son! When he was only seven days old a very important ceremony was performed. He had to receive a name. His papa, who believes in the religion of Shintoism, fully wrote out five of his favourite names on pieces of paper. Then he took his baby in his arms, and, carrying the papers, he went to the temple where he worshipped. The papers were handed to the priest, who placed them in a bowl. After[19] some ceremony, the priest began to fish in the bowl with a sacred wand. The first paper he lifted out bore the name of Toyo. This was the way that Lotus Blossom's little brother received his name. When he was about four weeks old he was again carried to the temple by his father and nurse. The Japanese believe in one great power, or god, but under him there are many others; as, a god of flowers, a god of art, and so forth. This time he was put under the care of his special god, who was then expected to protect him for the rest of his life.

All this time Toyo's head was kept perfectly smooth. In fact, his first visit to the barber was very important, for all his hair was shaved off then except a little fringe at the back and sides. When he was four months old another important ceremony was held. Toyo left off baby clothes and was given his first solid food. That was rice, of course,[20] which he would continue to eat at every meal for the rest of his life.

Toyo and Lotus Blossom are always happy together. His sister was the first one to help Toyo squat on his little heels. Japanese babies never creep. The little brother had no baby-carriage or cradle, but he never missed them. He was always such a happy little fellow; never perched up in a high-chair with his body fastened in by a wooden tray, but always moving around, sometimes on the floor, sometimes fastened on mamma's or nurse's back, again on the older children's backs, when Lotus Blossom was out playing in the garden with them. When he got tired he would simply go to sleep, while the children would keep on with their play. But when he woke up, he would look about with a dear little smile, as much as to say: "I'm all right, thank you, don't fret about me."

It was a most important time when he cut[21] the first tooth, and not only that, but the second and the third,—in fact, every tooth in turn had its arrival celebrated. A poem about each one was written by his loving papa, and a little festival was held in the home. Such happy, childlike people are the Japanese! They are ready to enjoy everything. Even the funerals are cheerful, and have nothing sad and dreary about them. Why should they, when the people believe that they always will live, and that they will come back to earth again to enjoy the beautiful fields and flowers and sunshine in new bodies?

Almost the first words that Toyo learned to speak were, "Thank you," and "If you please." Don't think for a moment that he ever did such a rude thing in his life as to answer "no" or "yes" without some very polite expression with it. For instance, if his mamma asked him a question, he would answer with his baby lips, "No, thank you,[22] most admirable mother," or, "If you please, my adorable, honoured parent," at the same time bowing his little body over till his head reached the ground. Why! he and Lotus Blossom are taught to speak respectfully even of the potatoes or the dishes or the table. For example, they say, "the highly respected cup," etc. Isn't it funny? But, after all, isn't it nice, too, to act kindly toward every one and everything in the world?

If her little brother should step on Lotus Blossom's doll and break its arm, what would she do? Give him a slap and say, "Oh, you bad, bad boy?" By no means. A slap is unknown in her land. The little woman would not even let herself look cross or unhappy, while Toyo would spend five minutes in telling her how unutterably sad and broken-hearted he was made by his cruel, ungentlemanly carelessness. And then, to make them[23] forget all about it, mamma would bring a new doll from the cupboard.

But perhaps Lotus Blossom is tired of playthings, so she and Toyo run out in the garden to have a frolic with their pets. They have new ones nearly every day, for they are fond of every creature that is alive. To-day they are going to hunt for some big beetles, as Toyo has planned a little carriage which he will make out of paper, with pasteboard wheels and reins of silk thread for the paper doll. The beetles will be harnessed, and the children will train them to draw the carriage. Jolly fun! The whole afternoon is spent in finding some black beauties and playing with them.

Another day the children will catch some grasshoppers and tame them. Toyo will make a pretty paper cage to hold them, while both he and Lotus Blossom will be very careful to feed them regularly on the dainties[24] they like best. When night comes the turtles must be looked after and fed, for Toyo has some beauties. He likes to fasten a string through the shell and take them walking, just as his American cousins do, but he would not willingly torture them.

Lotus Blossom has a globe full of gold-fish different from any you have ever seen. Their tails are fan-shaped, and are as long as their bodies. During the long summer days the globe of fish is set out on the broad balcony, and many children stop to watch them as they pass. Toyo loves his little dog more than all his other pets. He is the dearest little fellow, and wishes to follow his young master wherever he goes. He looks somewhat like a spaniel, except that he is white. His nose is turned up at the end, so that he looks all the time as if he would say, "Humph! I am very wise. You poor people don't know much." And he looks all this in such a[25] way as to make you wish to laugh. Toyo's mamma has made a big scarlet ruff for the dog's neck, and it makes him feel very fine, I dare say. His master has fastened a wooden label on his collar to tell where he belongs.

I know you will be disappointed when you learn that Lotus Blossom's dear little kitten cannot play with her tail. No fun for her, poor kitty, you are thinking. But why is it? Because she has no tail, or at least only the stub of one. So of course she is quite calm and solemn—that is, for a kitten. But then she lives in Japan, and so she ought to be more dignified than kittens of other lands. Don't you think so?

[Girl asleep on floor]

We must leave all these pets now and go to church, or rather to the temple, with Toyo, Lotus Blossom, and their parents. There is no set day for worship, for there is no such thing as Sunday in Japan. The temples are always open, and the children are fond of[26] going to them to offer prayers, and also to have a good time. As they near the temple they see stands of sweetmeats and good things of all kinds. The way is lined on both sides with these stands. Great numbers of people, rich and poor, high and low, are coming and going. Pigeons are flying in and out of the sacred building, and no one harms them. Toyo stops and buys a yen's worth of corn and scatters it for the birds to eat. They flock around him without fear. They are so tame that the children could catch them with no difficulty. But Lotus Blossom and Toyo pass on to the entrance, and, bowing low, take off their clogs.

The inside of the building is almost bare. There are no statues of gods or goddesses, no ornaments,—nothing except an altar with some queer sticks standing upon it. Festoons of white paper hang from these wands, or "gohei," as the Japanese call them. A priest[27] stands behind the altar, and a large cloth is spread out on the floor in front of it. Lotus Blossom and Toyo clap their hands. This is to call the attention of the gods. Then they say a little prayer and throw some money upon the cloth. If they are very good and devout children, perhaps the gods will descend into the temple. The queer papers on the wands are to be the clothing of these great beings. No images are needed, you see, only plenty of paper. Rather hard to understand this, and yet all that is necessary for Toyo and Lotus Blossom is to worship their ancestors properly, and believe that the great spirits are working everywhere in nature. This is the reason they are taught to obey their parents at all times, and never to harm anything living. The children are also taught to believe that the Mikado, the Emperor of Japan, is descended from god-kings who once ruled over the country. This is why such[28] great honour is paid him wherever he goes. Until a few years ago the people thought him so sacred that they ought not to look at him, so he was obliged to stay inside his beautiful palace like a prisoner. But times have changed, and his subjects have a little more common sense nowadays.

After our little cousins have said their prayers and given their money, they go to a dance-hall in another part of the temple. You know by this time that the Japanese like to enjoy themselves. But isn't it a strange idea to have dancing, praying, and feasting in the same place? The dancers are dressed like butterflies. They have beautiful red and gold wings. They are very graceful, but the music is unpleasant to us. Toyo thinks it is fine, and wishes he could play as well.

Now for a good dinner in the restaurant in the next hall, for the boy's father has promised to treat his family to all the dainties of[29] the season,—candied lotus-leaves, and everything they like best. It is a happy day, and the children wish they could go to the temple oftener.

One morning not long after this, poor little Lotus Blossom woke up with a bad pain in her stomach. Her face and hands were hot. She was not able to get up and go to school. Mamma felt very sad, and at once sent to ask the priest for something to make her little daughter well. You say at once, "Is the priest in Japan a doctor? And will he prepare medicine marked in some such way as this: 'One teaspoonful to be taken each hour?'" No, indeed. Lotus Blossom's mamma received from her queer physician two "moxas," with orders that one of them should be placed on the back of the sick child, and the other on her foot. The direction of the priest was followed, although it made Lotus Blossom very unhappy. I think you would not like[30] it, if you were in her place, for a moxa makes a burn far worse than a mustard plaster does. You know the punk that you use on the Fourth of July to light your firecrackers and fireworks? The moxas are made of a certain kind of pith, and burn slowly just as the punk does. The Japanese believe in the use of moxas for many things,—bad children, sickness, and I can't tell you what else. The impolite boy I told you about, at the beginning of the story, was burned with a moxa, in such a way that he never forgot himself again. As for fevers, why, the moxa is certain to drive away the bad spirits that cause them.

No doubt you wonder at it, as I do myself, but Lotus Blossom got well enough in two or three days to sit up and be dressed. But she did not care for her dolls or games; she felt tired all the time. Her loving and most honoured father said a change of air would[31] do her good. It would be well for her to spend some days at the house of an aunt who lived several miles out in the country. Toyo was allowed to go, too. How were they to get there? In steam or electric cars? What can you be thinking of to ask such questions? Two jinrikishas were brought to the door; one was for Lotus Blossom and one for her brother. Strong men were hired to draw them. I wonder if you ever saw anything like a jin-riki-sha, or man-power-carriage, for that is what the word means. They are very comfortable, much like baby-carriages, and are lined with soft cushions. The men look strong and kind. They are nearly naked, so that they can run easily and rapidly.

It will take only an hour to carry the children to their aunt's, if they do not stop on the way. But there are so many things to see to-day that Lotus Blossom forgets all about her sickness and burns, and wants her[32] runners to stop every few minutes to rest. The children spend at least five minutes bidding their mother a proper good-bye. Then, at the word, off they go, down "Dog" Street into "Turtle" Street. There are no sidewalks, but they are not needed, for horses and wagons are rarely seen.

[man sitting by candy cart]

But look! Here is a man standing in the middle of the street, dancing and singing a funny song. The sober Japanese who are passing stop and laugh. The man has a little stand by his side, and on this stand are a dish of wheat-gluten and a bamboo reed. As Lotus Blossom and Toyo draw near, the man ends his song and calls out, "Now who wants me to blow him a candy dog? Or shall it be a monkey eating a nut? You, my most honoured little lady, want one surely."

This he said to Lotus Blossom, who was sitting up straight in the jinrikisha, full of interest. She thought a moment or two, and[33] then asked for a stork with wings spread out to fly. She had hardly stopped speaking before the man seized a bamboo reed, dipped it in the sticky paste, and blowing now this way, now that, fashioned the graceful bird. Pinching it here and there to make it more perfect, he put on some touches of colour from a box of paints. It was wonderfully done. Lotus Blossom gave him five yen for the candy toy, the runners took hold of the jinrikisha, and away the children went on their journey.

They came soon to another crowd of boys and girls gathered about a batter-cake man. He had a little stand on which a pan of charcoal was burning. A large griddle rested over the coal, and a tiny little urchin was standing on his tiptoes and baking cakes. The man cut them out for him in pretty shapes. See the pleasure on the youngster's face! All this fun for ten yen, or one cent. The other children[34] watch him in envy. As Toyo and Lotus Blossom draw near, the jinrikisha men make a place for them in the crowd, and Toyo jumps out to get a lunch. He has the next turn, and so he asks the pleasant-faced man to cut his batter-cakes in the shape of turtles. Lotus Blossom does not wish any, but lies back in her easy carriage under her pretty sunshade, and watches Toyo cook and eat them. Umbrellas and sunshades are of the same material in Japan. They are made of several layers of tough, strong paper, and will last a long time. When they are worn out, they are thrown away just as the paper handkerchiefs are, and new ones are bought for a very small sum of money. In stormy weather Lotus Blossom and Toyo not only carry umbrellas, but wear long capes of oiled paper to keep off the rain, while very poor people have coats made of grasses. Funny looking things these are! If you should see[35] a man with one of them over his shoulders, and a queer mushroom-shaped hat on his head, you would feel like laughing, I know,—that is, if you had not already acquired some of the politeness of the Japanese themselves.

But let us return to Turtle Street and find out what is now attracting the attentions of our little cousins. Would you believe it? They can't be in very much of a hurry to get to aunty's, for they have stopped again. You would also stop if you saw what they do. A travelling street show is entertaining numbers of men, women, and children. Babies are on the backs of some of them, laughing and crowing, too. See that clever fellow in the middle. He is making butterflies of coloured paper and blowing them up into the air. He keeps them flying about, now in one direction, now in another, by waving his fan. It seems as though they must be alive, he does this so cleverly. That yellow butterfly[36] is made to alight on a baby's hand. Hear the little fellow crow with delight. Another flies over Lotus Blossom's jinrikisha, and then, by the dexterous waving of the showman's fan, goes off in another direction before she can catch it.

[pond with lilies and pagoda]

After the butterfly show another man performs some wonderful tricks with a ladder. He places the ladder upright on the ground without any support; he climbs it, rung by rung, keeping its balance all the time. Finally he reaches the very top and stands on one foot, bowing and gracefully waving a fan. There is not time to tell you all the wonderful feats of the Japanese. Toyo and Lotus Blossom are delighted, although they have seen performances like these many times before.

But they must really hasten on their journey, for aunty will be expecting them, and it will soon be sunset. In a few moments they leave the city behind and are out in the beautiful[37] country. They pass tea plantations. The glossy green leaves are almost ready to pick. See the man in that field, running wildly about, making hideous noises. Is he crazy? Our little cousins do not seem disturbed as they pass by, for he is only a hired scarecrow. You remember that the people in Japan think it wrong to kill any living thing. But there are great numbers of birds in the country which are likely to eat the crops and do much damage. So men are hired to act as scarecrows and make noises to frighten the birds away.

At last Uncle Oto's rice plantation is reached. The children draw up in front of a large, low house with wide verandas. It is more beautiful than their own home. The roof is magnificent with carvings, and must have cost a great deal of money. It is the pride of Aunt Ocho. The gardens contain the choicest plants and trees, besides a pond and an artificial waterfall. Lotus Blossom and[38] Toyo are sure of a good time and much fun. They will have a great deal to tell their mamma when they return to their home.

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