There are no streets in Tokyo which are known as fashionable afternoon resorts, because the shops are so constructed that one cannot stop before them without being accosted by the squatting salesmen.
Only in a few main streets are there regular rows of shops with show-windows against which one could press one’s nose to look at the wares exhibited or peer beyond at the shop-girls at the counter; but then business is not done in Japan over the counter, nor do shop-girls hide their charms behind a window, for the shops are open to the street and the show-girls, or “signboard-girls” as we call them, squat at the edge visible to all passers-by and are as distinctive a feature of the shop as the signboard itself.
The goods are exhibited on the floor in glass cases or in piles, a custom which is not commendable when pastry or confectionery is on sale, for standing as it does on the south-eastern end of the great plain of Musashino, Tokyo is a very windy city, and the thick clouds of fine dust raised by the wind on fair days cover every article exposed and penetrate through the joints of glass cases, so that in Tokyo a man who is fond of confectionery must expect to eat his pound of dirt not within a lifetime, but often in a few weeks.
If one stops for a moment to look at the wares, he is bidden at once to sit on the floor and examine other articles which would be brought out for his inspection, whereupon he has either to accept the invitation or move on.
One seldom cares therefore to loiter in the street. The only shops that are often crowded by loiterers are the booksellers’ and cheap-picture dealers’.
When she goes out on an informal visit, the Japanese woman usually puts on a crested haori; but if it is only for a walk, the haori may be plain. The kimono may on such occasions be of any pattern, only that when she makes a call, the band must be of the same cloth as the kimono.
The only Japanese musical instrument taught in girls’ schools is the koto, a kind of zither. As the koto is the most adaptable of all Japanese instruments to western music, it is more readily learnt than others at schools where the piano and the violin are also taught. There are several kinds of koto, the number of strings on them ranging from one to twenty-five; but the one exclusively used at schools has thirteen strings It has a hollow convex body,six feet five inches long and ten inches wide at one end and half an inch narrower at the other, and stands on legs three and a half inches high. The strings are tied at equal distances at the head or broader end and gathered at the other; they are supported each by its own bridge, the position of which varies with the pitch required. Small ivory nails are put on the tips of the fingers for striking the strings.
The samisen is early taught. Girls of seven or thereabouts are made to learn it while their fingers are still very pliant. But the lessons are hard to learn as the tunes have to be committed to memory, for there are no scores to refer to. There is no popular method of notation; the marks which are sometimes to be seen in song-books are too few to be of use to any but skilled musicians.
The lighter samisen does not require much exertion to play; women can thrum it for hours on end; and they make slight indentations on the nails of the middle and ring fingers of the left hand for catching the strings when those fingers are moved up and down the neck to stop them. But with the heavier kind the indentations are deeper, and the constant friction of the strings hardens the finger-tips and often breaks the nails, while still worse is the condition of the right hand which holds the plectrum.
The plectrum, the striking end of which is flat as in the one for the slender-necked samisen, is heavily leaded and weighs from twelve ounces to a pound when used by professionals; and the handle, which is square, is held between the ring and little fingers for leverage and worked with the thumb and the forefinger.
Though many private houses in the business quarters have no gates, those of any pretensions in the residential districts where land is naturally cheaper, are mostly provided with them. It is not usual for professionals in humbler walks of life and for artisans to live within a gate; but officials and others of some social standing prefer to have one to their houses. Sometimes there is a single gate to a large compound with a number of small houses in it; in such a case the gate-post is studded with name-plates. Gates, too, vary in size and form. The most modest are no more than low wicker-gates which can be jumped over and offer no bar to intrusion.
Gates, too, vary in size and form. The most modest are no more than low wicker-gates which can be jumped over and offer no bar to intrusion. Others are of the same make, but stand higher so that the interior can be seen only through cracks. But the most common consist of two square posts with hinged doors which meet in the middle and are kept shut by a cross-bar passing through clamps on them. These gates may be of the cheapest kind of wood, such as cryptomeria, or may be massive and of hard wood. Another common kind has a roof over it with a single door which is hinged on one post and fastened on to the other and provided with a small sliding-door for daily use. The larger pair gates have also small side-doors for use at night when they are themselves shut.
here is, however, still another element of insecurity in wooden houses. House-breaking is by no means difficult in Tokyo. In the daytime the front entrance is generally closed with sliding-doors which can, however, be gently opened and entered without attracting notice unless some one happens to be in an adjoining room. The kitchen door is usually kept open, and it is quite easy to sneak into the kitchen and make away with food or utensils. Tradesmen, rag-merchants, and hawkers come into the kitchen to ask for orders, to buy waste-paper or broken crockery, or to sell their wares, so that there is nothing unusual in finding strange men on the premises. Sometimes these hawkers are really burglars in disguise come to reconnoitre the house with a view to paying it a nocturnal visit. At night, of course, the house is shut and the doors are bolted or fastened with a ring and staple, but very seldom locked or chained.
In Japan there was neither an architect nor a builder as a distinct calling. Even now, ordinary dwelling-houses are not built by either of them; it is the carpenter who has charge of their construction. The carpenter’s is a dignified craft; he is called in Japanese the “great artificer,” and stands at the head of all artisans. In the building of a house, a master carpenter is called in; he prepares the plans, and if they are approved, he sets to work with his apprentices and journeymen.
Convention also makes itself felt in the laying out of a Japanese garden, though a greater latitude is allowed to the gardener’s ingenuity. Still the principles remain unchanged. In a large garden we usually find a pond, dry if no water is available, and surrounded with rocks of various shapes, and a knoll or two behind the pond with pines, maples, and other trees, and stone lanterns here and there. A few flowering shrubs are in sight, but these are planted for a season; thus, peonies, morning-glories, and chrysanthemums are removed as soon as they fade, while corchoruses and hydrangeas are cut down leaving only the roots behind. The chief features of the garden are the evergreens like the pine, trees whose leaves crimson in autumn like the maple, and above all, the flowering trees like the plum, the cherry, and the peach. A landscape garden presents, when the trees are not in blossom, a somewhat severe or solemn aspect; we do not expect from it the gaiety which beds of flowers impart. Indeed, many European flowering plants have of late been introduced, such as anemones, cosmoses, geraniums, nasturtiums, tulips, crocuses, and begonias; but they still look out of place in a Japanese garden. Roses are sometimes planted, but they are almost scentless. The humidity of the climate appears to militate against the perfume of flowers.
A Japanese room is measured, not by feet and inches, but by the number of mats it contains. A mat consists of a straw mattress, about an inch and a half thick, with a covering of fine matting which is sewn on at the edges of the mattress either by itself or with a border, usually dark-blue and an inch wide, of coarse hempen cloth. It is six feet long by three wide; this measure is not always exact, but may vary by an inch or more in either direction. When a house is newly built, the mat-maker comes to make mats to fit the rooms in it. But in spite of the variation, the size of a room is always given in the number of mats it holds, so that we never know the exact dimensions of a room. The smallest room has two mats, that is, is about six feet square; the next smallest is three-matted, or three yards by two. Four-matted rooms are sometimes to be found; but such rooms are unshapely, being four yards long by two wide. A room with four and a half mats is three yards square and has the half mat, which is a yard square, in the centre. The next size is six-matted, or four yards by three and is followed by the eight-matted, or four yards square.
The smallest houses are those in the slums which have only three yards’ frontage and a depth of four yards. The entrance, the space for kitchen utensils and the sink, and perhaps a closet or cupboard would leave room for little more than three mats, on which the whole family live; but as children spend all their playtime outside and come in only for meals, it is at night that the house is crowded, and even then as they sleep higgledy-piggledy, a couple or so of children do not inconvenience their parents to any appreciable extent. A two-roomed house is common enough and is not confined to the slums. A childless old couple, when the wife has to do the household work, find such a house large enough for them. Artisans also live in them. Three-roomed houses, too, are very common. Houses built in blocks are oftenest of this size. They are made up of the porch, the sitting-room, and the parlour or drawing-room. These three rooms are the essential portions of a house; and larger houses merely add to them. A visitor calls at the porch, the paper sliding-door is opened, he is invited to come in, he leaves his hat and greatcoat in the porch, and enters the parlour.
The parlour, the principal room of the house, is always kept tidy. It has an alcove, six feet long by three deep, consisting of a dais, a few inches high, of plain hard wood, which will bear polishing, though a thin matting is sometimes put over it. Not unfrequently, another piece of wood, generally square, forms the outer edge so that the thickness of the floor of the alcove can be concealed. The dais has a special ceiling of its own, or a bit of a wall, of plaster or wood, coming down over it a foot or more from the ceiling. On the dais is set a vase of porcelain or metal, bottle-shaped or flat, in which branches of a tree or shrubs in flower are put in, and on the wall is hung a kakemono, or scroll of picture or writing. These two constitute the main ornament of the room. New flowers are put in every few days and the kakemono is changed from time to time. This is the peculiarity of the kakemono as a piece of house decoration. We do not exhibit all our treasures in kakemono at the same time, but hang them one, two, or three at a time according to the size of the alcove and the kakemono themselves, so that the visitor calling at different seasons may delight his eyes with the sight of fresh pictures or writings each time he calls.
When a visitor calls, even the cushion is brought from the anteroom for him to sit on, and then a small cup of tea set before him and a brazier if it is cold and if warm, a tabako-bon. The cushion is round or square; that for summer is made of matting, hide, or a thin wadding of cotton in a cover of hempen cloth, while for winter use the wadding is much thicker and the cover is silk or cotton. It is about sixteen inches at the side if square. The brazier is of various shapes and makes. It may be a wooden box with an earthenware case inside or with a false bottom of copper, or it may be a glazed earthenware case alone; the wooden box may be plain with two holes for handles, or it may be elaborately latticed; and sometimes a brazier is made of the trunk of a tree cut with the outside rough-hewn or only barked and highly polished. The tabako-bon, or “tobacco-tray,” is a small open square or oblong box of sandal-wood or other hard wood, which holds a small china or metal pan, three-quarters full of ashes, with a few tiny pieces of live charcoal in the middle to light a pipe with, and beside it a small bamboo tube with a knot at the bottom for receiving tobacco-ashes.
The sitting-room has little furniture. An indispensable article in it is the brazier, usually oblong, with a set of three small drawers one under another at the side and two others side by side under the copper tray filled with ashes, on which charcoal is burnt inside an iron or clay trivet. On this trivet is set a kettle of iron or copper. The iron kettle is made of thick cast-iron and kept on the trivet so as always to have hot water ready for tea-making: and the copper kettle is used when we wish to boil water quickly. Beside the brazier is a small shelf or cabinet for tea-things. Behind the brazier is a cushion where the wife sits; this is her usual post. There is also a cushion on the other side or the brazier, where the husband or other members of the house may sit.